Is there really any better way to eat smelts other than fried? If so, please tell me, because as far as I know, deep frying smelts is THE best way to eat them.
I bought some smelts that were already cleaned and gutted. Most grocery stores will sell them in the frozen section cleaned and gutted or whole.
Smelts are one of those foods I don’t think I ever had growing up. I think they’ve become easier to purchase now. I can’t imagine Grand Union having these in stock when I was a kid.
I like to use cornstarch over flour when I fry foods that I want to stay crunchy. Cornstarch stays crisp after frying, but flour has a very short life before going from crisp to limp and soggy. I also like to add kosher salt, because it adds a buttery salinity. And boy, do I like my fish salty. Paprika also adds an extra buttery, rich depth.
Raw smelts, gutted and beheaded.
Mix together cornstarch with paprika & kosher salt. You want a plateful of cornstarch, and enough paprika to add some color. Add in a few generous pinches of kosher salt, then mix it all up.
Roll a smelt around in the cornstarch mixture so all surfaces are covered. Cover all of your smelts at once, then fry in batches. They fry quickly, so having them all coated before you start frying makes it easier.
Fry them in some hot oil. You’ll know the right temperature. Somewhere in the medium-high range. Let a few smelts fry for 2-3 minutes for some nice and crispy smelts. And make sure you eat the fins and bones – they’ll be nice and crispy!