When it comes to cooking smelt, pan-frying stands out as a popular method that preserves its delicate taste while adding a satisfying crunch. In this article, I will take you through the steps of cleaning smelt and instruct you how to cook smelt fried properly

1. How To Clean Smelt Fish Before Frying?

Cleaning smelt is a straightforward process, ensuring you remove any impurities while keeping the fish intact. Follow these steps to prepare the smelt for frying:

Step 1: Rinse the Smelt

Start by rinsing the smelt under cold running water. Gently rub the fish to remove any surface dirt, debris, or excess scales. Pat them dry using paper towels or a clean kitchen cloth.

Step 2: Remove the Head

Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, snip off the head of each smelt just behind the gills.

Step 3: Gut the Smelt

Make a shallow incision along the belly of the smelt. Using your fingers or a small spoon, carefully remove the entrails from the body cavity. Be gentle to avoid tearing the fish open.

Step 4: Rinse Again

After gutting the smelt, give them another quick rinse under cold water to ensure all traces of innards are removed. Pat them dry thoroughly using paper towels to avoid excessive moisture while frying.

Remove the Backbone (Optional)

If you prefer boneless fish for easier eating, you can remove the backbone. To do this, make a small incision along the top of the smelt, just below the dorsal fin. Use your fingers or a pair of tweezers to gently lift and pull out the backbone. This step requires some precision but results in a more enjoyable dining experience.

2. How To Fry Smelt


  • 1 pound fresh smelt, cleaned and patted dry
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Lemon wedges for serving


Step 1: In a shallow dish, combine the all-purpose flour, cornmeal, salt, black pepper, and paprika. Mix well to create a dredging mixture.

Step 2: Dredge the cleaned smelt in the flour-cornmeal mixture, ensuring each fish is evenly coated.

Step 3: In a large skillet or frying pan, pour enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom by about 1/4 inch. Heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Step 4: Carefully place the dredged smelt into the hot oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry the smelt in batches if necessary.

Step 5: Fry the smelt for about 2-3 minutes per side or until they turn golden brown and crispy. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the fried smelt to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.

Step 6: Serve the fried smelt hot with lemon wedges on the side for a burst of citrusy flavor.

3. What To Serve With Fried Smelt?

Pan-fried smelt is a delightful dish on its own, but pairing it with some complementary sides can elevate your culinary experience. Here are some excellent options:

Tartar Sauce: A classic condiment for fried fish, tartar sauce adds a tangy and creamy element that perfectly complements the crunchy smelt.

Coleslaw: The refreshing crunch of coleslaw provides a nice contrast to the crispy texture of the smelt. Its creamy dressing also adds depth of flavor.

Lemon-Dill Dip: Combine some Greek yogurt or sour cream with fresh dill and lemon juice for a light and zesty dip that enhances the smelt’s flavor.

French Fries: The timeless combination of fish and chips can’t go wrong. Serve crispy French fries alongside your pan-fried smelt for a satisfying meal.

Fried smelt is a delightful and easy-to-make dish that showcases the delicate flavors of this freshwater fish. By cleaning the smelt properly and following a simple pan-fried recipe, you can savor the crispy goodness of smelt fish.

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Jarrett Stieber

Discover mouthwatering recipes, how to cook basic, and knowledge to know when cooking with Jarrett Stieber on the website Eat Me Speak Me. I'm a chef with over 10 years of experience and is famous in Atlanta.

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