Smelts can be baked, deep-fried, grilled or pickled. They can be coated with bread crumbs, panko, cornmeal or flour. Or they can be thrown in the pan without embellishment.
Look for fish that are 3 to 4 inches long; the smaller, the better. They are usually sold dressed (heads off, guts removed). The whole fish can be eaten, skin, bones and all. If you prefer, the heads, innards and roe are edible.
They are available (best to call first) at the Maine Avenue seafood markets in Southwest Washington, some Whole Foods Markets, Southern Maryland Seafood Market at Eastern Market and the Fishery in Chevy Chase.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 2 pounds smelts, cleaned
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Combine the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish.
Rinse the cleaned smelts and pat them dry with paper towels. Lightly season them inside and out with salt and pepper. Dip them in lemon juice, if desired. Line a large plate with several layers of paper towels.
Lightly coat both sides of the smelts in the seasoned flour. Place just enough smelts in the skillet to keep from overcrowding it; cook for 2 to 4 minutes, then turn them over and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, so the skin is browned and crisp and the flesh is flaky.
Transfer to the lined plate to drain briefly. Repeat as needed to cook all the smelts.
Serve hot, with a little lemon juice and chopped parsley.
From Washington food writer Bonny Wolf.
Tested by Bonny wolf.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.