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Deep-Fried Smelt

Smelt is a species of small, silver fish found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as in the Great Lakes and the streams that feed them. Native Americans relied on the return of smelt each spring as a food supply, earning them the nickname of “salvation fish” because they were the first fish to arrive in the streams after a long, cold winter when food supplies were running low. Another nickname for smelt is “candle fish,” which comes from the fact that they are so oily—almost 20 percent oil by weight—that when dried, placed upright, and lit, the fish will burn from end to end like a candle. Today smelt are fished both commercially and recreationally most often by netting them during the spring and winter. Smelt are most commonly deep-fried or pan-fried in flour and butter.   

Recipe Servings: 4

Prep Time
15 minutes
Cook Time
5 minutes
Total Time
20 minutes
Gluten Free
Dairy Free



  1. Preheat the oil in a deep-fryer or heavy saucepan to 350°F.
  2. Pry open the head of each smelt and pull on the gills to remove them along with the entrails. Rinse the fish in cold water and drain well.
  3. Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper in a bowl.
  4. Coat each fish in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess.
  5. Place the fish into the hot oil and fry them for about 3–5 minutes or until golden and crisp. Depending on the size of the deep-fryer or pan, the fish may need to be fried in batches.
  6. Transfer the fish from the oil to paper towel.
  7. Serve the fish hot.

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