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Smelt – Dip Net to Dish: Recipes

Generally, smelt are cooked with the backbone and ribs intact. When smelt are fried the bones become crisp and brittle and are eaten. When baked or broiled the bones don't cook up as well but the meat can be easily picked off the bones. You may want to butterfly fillet very large smelt.

The following recipes offer a variety of ways to enjoy smelt, whether you dip them out of the cold, clear tributaries of Lake Superior or buy them in the grocery store.


Smelt Italian Style

  • 2 lbs. dressed smelt
  • 2 cups sliced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup melted fat or oil
  • 1 can (1 lb., 12 oz.) Italian tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1 ½ tsp. oregano
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese

Cook onion and garlic in melted fat or oil until onion is tender. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, sugar and pepper; mix well. Cover and cook slowly, about 30 minutes, until slightly thickened and flavors blend; stir often during cooking. Stir in parsley. Spread sauce over bottom of 2 or 3 quart, shallow, rectangular baking dish. Arrange smelt on sauce in a single layer down the center of baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt and cheeses. Bake in hot oven, 400 degrees F, 15 to 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serves 6.

Baked in Mushroom Sauce

  • 1 ½ lbs. smelt
  • 1 can mushroom soup
  • ½ cup milk

Arrange a layer of smelt in the bottom of a greased casserole. Dilute one can of mushroom soup with milk. Pour half of the soup over the fish. Arrange a second layer of fish and cover with remaining soup. Bake 30–45 minutes in moderate (350 degree F) oven, or until most of the soup has been absorbed by the fish. Serves 4–5.


Basil's Barbecued Smelt

  • 2 lbs. dressed smelt
  • barbecue sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove finely chopped garlic cooked until tender in
  • 2 ½ Tbsp. butter
  • 2 ½ Tbsp. chopped green pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. pepper

Simmer barbecue sauce ingredients for five minutes. Cool. Marinate fish in sauce for 45 minutes, turning once. Place fish on broiling rack, broil for 5 to 10 minutes, basting with sauce. Turn and repeat, until the fish flakes easily. Serves 6.


Campfire Smelt

  • 3 lbs. dressed smelt (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3 strips bacon, cut in half
  • dash pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley

Thaw frozen fish. Clean, wash, and dry fish. Cut 6 pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil, 12 x 12 inches each. Grease lightly. Divide fish into 6 portions. Place fish on foil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place onion and parsley on fish. Top with bacon. Bring the foil up over the food and close all edges with tight double folds. Make 6 packages. Place packages on a grill about 4 inches from hot coals. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serves 6.


Pickled Smelt

  • 3 lbs. dressed smelt
  • 1 ½ cups white sugar
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ¼ cup mixed pickling spices
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. allspice
  • 1 Tbsp. whole cloves
  • 1 or 2 sliced onions
  • 4 lemon slices
  • 3 cups white vinegar

Soak fish in a brine of 2 ½ cups of pickling or canning salt to 1 gallon of water for 12 hours in the refrigerator. Use only glass, enamel or plastic containers for brining. Remove fish from brine and thoroughly rinse fish for 15 minutes under cold running water. Combine vinegar, sugar, wine, and pickling spices. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. If smelt have not been frozen, simmer in pickling liquid for last 5 minutes. Cool fish and pickling liquid. Pack fish in glass jars and add a portion of the allspice, bay leaves, cloves, onion, and lemon to each. Strain the cooled pickling liquid and pour into jars until fish are covered. Seal jars. Allow to stand in refrigerator for one week. Use within 6 to 8 weeks.


Pan-Fried with Onion Cream Gravy

  • 10–12 dressed smelt
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 Tbsp. fat

Fry onions in fat, when brown, push to one side of skillet. Fry the seasoned fish slowly until brown on both sides. Remove fish to hot platter, add cream or milk to onions and simmer 5–10 minutes. Pour over fish and serve. Serves 4. Variation: Use tomato sauce.

Lakeshore Smelt with Schuler's Herb Butter

  • 8 lbs. dressed smelt
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 qt. fine corn flake crumbs
  • cooking oil for frying
  • 2 cups Schuler's Herb Butter
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup finely chopped chives
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly-ground pepper
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ½ t. liquid hot pepper sauce

Cream butter until smooth and fluffy. Beat in remaining ingredients. Thaw fish if frozen; wash and dry. Combine crumbs and salt. Roll in crumb mixture (or shake a few at a time in crumb mixture in a paper bag) until well coated. Heat oil (approximately 1/8 inch) in skillet or grill over moderately hot coals. Place fish in single layer in hot oil; fry 2 or 3 minutes, or until brown. Turn carefully and fry 2 to 3 minutes on second side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve herb butter over hot fish. Serves 25.


  • 1 lb. dressed smelt
  • ½ cup of cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 egg
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. fat

Clean and wash fish. Season with salt and pepper. Roll in cornmeal, dip in egg diluted with milk or water, roll in cornmeal again. Heat 2 Tbsp. fat in heavy skillet. Using a low flame, brown the fish on one side, then the other.

Variations: Soak fish in lemon juice for 10–15 minutes before frying to bring out the delicate flavor. Other crumbs can be used, bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, crushed cornflakes or flour. Serves 4.

Sesame Smelt

  • 2 lbs. dressed smelt
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt dash pepper
  • 1 cup pancake mix
  • ¼ cup yellow corn meal
  • l/2 cup flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • dash pepper
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 jar (2¼ oz.) sesame seeds

Thaw frozen fish. Clean, wash and dry fish. Sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Combine pancake mix, corn meal, salt, and pepper. Add milk and stir only until blended. Stir in sesame seeds. Roll fish in flour and dip in batter. Place in a single layer in a fry basket. Fry in deep fat, 350 degrees F, for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown and fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Drain on absorbent paper. Serves 6.

Crispy Smelt

  • 2 lbs. dressed smelt
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
  • cocktail sauce
  • lemon wedges

Thaw frozen fish. Clean, wash and dry fish. Sprinkle inside with salt and pepper. Combine flour and cheese. Dip fish in tomato sauce and roll in flour mixture. Place in a single layer in a fry basket. Fry in deep fat, 350 degrees F, for 3 to 4 minutes or until brown and fish flakes when tested with a fork. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Serves 6.


Smoked Smelt

For a real taste treat try smoking smelt. Follow the same procedures you would for smoking larger fish, but do not brine smelt as long and rinse them thoroughly in fresh water, or they may be too salty for your taste. Smoke them until golden brown and completely cooked. Eat them bones and all for a delicious appetizer. For information on smoking fish contact Minnesota Sea Grant.

Related Content:

About smelt populations in Lake Superior:

This page last modified on May 04, 2016     © 1996 – 2019 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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