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Pan-Fried Cornmeal-Coated Maine Smelts

Find the freshest smelts possible and try them using this simple technique. They are delicious with a simple wedge of lemon, but the Better Than Tartar Sauce (recipe below) makes for an exceptional meal.
  Fresh smelts 1 Pound
  Flour 1⁄2 Cup (8 tbs)
  Corn meal 1⁄2 Cup (8 tbs), stone-ground or coarse (yellow or white)
  Salt To Taste
  Freshly ground black pepper To Taste
  Canola oil/Safflower oil 3 Tablespoon
  Lemon 1 , cut into wedges
For better than tartar sauce
  Mayonnaise 1 Cup (16 tbs)
  Dill pickle/Half sour pickle 1 Small, finely chopped (plus 1 tablespoon of the liquid or juice from the pickle jar)
  Scallion 1 , finely chopped
  Drained capers 1 Tablespoon
  Lemon juice 2 Tablespoon (from 1/2 large lemon)
  Hot pepper sauce 2 Dash
  Finely chopped parsley 2 Tablespoon

Lightly rinse the smelts and dry thoroughly.

To clean the smelts: using a small pair of kitchen scissors, hold the
smelt belly up in one hand with its head pointing away from you. With the scissors, open the belly by cutting from the vent to the point of the lower jaw. With the back of the thumb of the other hand, push the entrails out of the abdominal cavity in a single motion. Grasp the gills and the entrails and pull them clear of the head. If necessary, use the scissors to cut the esophagus just inside the jaw. Alternately, ask your fish store to clean the smelts for you.

Place the flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper on a plate and lightly dredge the smelts in the mixture until coated on all sides.

In a large, heavy frying pan (cast iron is ideal), heat the oil over
moderately high heat.It¹s hot enough when you add a speck of the flour mixture and it begins to sizzle. Add the smelts, a few at a time, being careful not to crowd the pan, and cook about 2 to 3 minutes on each side (don¹t fiddle with the fish ‹ let them cook undisturbed). When you flip the smelts over, they should be golden brown. The timing depends on the size of the fish ‹ a smaller 5-inch smelt will only take about 2 minutes per side and a larger (around 8 or 9 inches long) fish will need to cook closer to 3 minutes per side.

Drain on paper towels and serve hot with lemon wedges and the Better Than Tartar Sauce, if desired.

Better Than Tartar Sauce
This tartar-like sauce is delicious served with any sautéed or fried fish ‹ smelts, fried clams, sautéed sole or flounder, haddock, etc. You can make it several hours (but not a full day) ahead of time, and cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. The sauce is enough for one pound of fish.

Makes about 1 cup

In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients until fully incorporated. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or hot sauce to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Recipe Summary

Side Dish

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Nutrition Rank

Nutrition Facts

Serving size

Calories 743 Calories from Fat 522

% Daily Value*

Total Fat 58 g89.5%

Saturated Fat 5.3 g26.6%

Trans Fat 0 g

Cholesterol 118.7 mg39.6%

Sodium 524.4 mg21.8%

Total Carbohydrates 31 g10.2%

Dietary Fiber 2.9 g11.8%

Sugars 0.5 g

Protein 24 g47.3%

Vitamin A 14.9% Vitamin C 42.6%

Calcium 11% Iron 17.4%

*Based on a 2000 Calorie diet

Pan-Fried Cornmeal-Coated Maine Smelts Recipe