In Albums: food seafood fish

A bin of smelts, very small silvery-grey fish with heads removed and yellow-colored tail fins which are cut short

Jun 30th, 2011, by Alex Zorach

These smelt (or smelts), whole but with heads and tail fins removed, were for sale at Wan's Seafood in the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, for $4.99 a pound.

Smelts are one of the healthiest and most sustainable fish to eat. Being small, they are low on the food chain, and thus reproduce very quickly, and do not bioaccumulate contaminants such as mercury or PCB's. They are also a very fatty fish, rich in Omega 3 fats. I also find them extremely flavorful and delightful to eat: they have a rich, meaty texture and a distinct flavor that is not particularly fishy. They are very filling fish: a small amount of them goes quite far for feeding people.

One of my favorite ways to cook smelt is to deep fry them, like french fries. One can then eat the smaller fish whole, bone and all. The larger fish, one can hold and eat off the bone. When eating a bunch of fried smaller smelt, one can dip them in ketchup like french fries.

Larger smelt I sometimes like to bake. These fish are often considered more of a "junk" fish but I find that they have a delicious flavor that is among my favorite of all fish, and I like to enjoy them on their own. Again, after baking them whole, the larger fish can be eaten off the bone and the smaller ones can be eaten whole. Even the tail fins are edible, tasty and somewhat crunchy. The bones are usually very soft, except on the largest fish. Deep-frying at high temperatures further softens the bones, although it is probably healthier to bake these fish or cook them through other means.