I have always enjoyed eating fish, and don't know why I had never eaten smelts before. At least I don't recall eating them, though the taste did seem familiar. I'm pretty sure my mother never served them. The boyfriend, a Newington, NH native, was raised on them. And though he entered into the pescetarian year with us kicking and screaming (there is very little exaggeration to that statement) he was more than willing to turn my children and I onto one of his childhood comfort foods; pan-fried smelts. They were yummy. How could they not be?! Fresh from our bay. Perfectly fried in my old cast iron pan. Served with roasted rosemary potatoes and pan-fried zucchini and a glass of local ale.
The fish itself is a small one. Bigger, but not too different, from the sardine. You can eat the bones, and they are probably quite nutritious. We don't. It's a mild tasting white fish, rather sweet and delicate really, some say reminscent of violets. Can be cooked just about anyway you'd like, but simple is said to be best. The way we did it the other night. The way smelters have been eating them for longer back than anybody knows. Freshly caught under a winter night sky, quickly dressed, kept on ice, til tossed in a sizzling skillet, and shared with someone you love.
Joe prepares them the way his grandmother did. Dipped in eggwash, then cornmeal, and fried in a light oil, both sides. No seasoning. I'd add a few chopped herbs to the cormeal mix if I were doing it. He likes to dip his smelts in mayonnaise, I prefer ketchup.
Here are some photos from our smelt dinner.