Has anyone here eaten smelt (the fish)?

What’s it like?

A place nearby offers a smelt dinner. Based on the rest of the menu, I assume these will be fried.

Are they typically beheaded? Tail removed? Is it safe to assume they’ll be otherwise whole?

Where’s the flavor land? Stronger than trout? Stronger than herring?

(I wish I could try just one, as in A smelt!)

Yes, all the time as a kid.
They were cheap fish my grandparents could afford.
As I recall, they were served w/o the head, but with the tail still on, breaded and fried.
The flavor was mild - not as strong as herring.

My mom used to fry up bags of those critters–as was said, cheap protein. They looked like oversized french fries and you just eat them bones and all, they’re actually really good. Especially if you’ve got the munchies. :wink:

Smelt are very popular in Friday Night Fish Fries.

Cut off the head, thumb gut it and fry in cornmeal.

Grew up in Chicago with a step dad who built his own pneumatic gun to shoot out the lines for smelt runs. We’d get a hundred pounds or more and bring them back to the church and feed the whole ministry.

Fun fact: a smelt pulled right out of the lake smells faintly of watermelon. Those we ate on the rocks at 59th st (i think) were some of the best fish I’ve ever had.

There are smaller fresh water smelts and larger salt water versions. It’s common for people to strip the spine out of the large ones after frying. The tail remains but may be tossed aside. This was a popular dish in times past but hard to find now. Most seafood dealers will carry frozen smelts, fresh ones are tough to come by even here in the land of seafood.

Such an unfortunate name for a food fish. It may seem childish to snicker at that, but Wikipedia says the name of the family to which they belong, Osmeridae, derives from a Greek term that means “stink.” I don’t think smelt actually smell bad or have too strong a flavor, though. So give it a shot. Whaddya got to lose? :grinning:

Smelt were introduced into the Great Lakes by european settlers who were used to eating them back in the old country. I grew up along Lake Michigan and participated in the the smelt runs and the moonlight smelt netting. And ate plenty of them, with and without heads. They’re pretty mild.

Smelt are disappearing from the Great Lakes and the reason is not clearly understood. The run was pretty minimal this year.

Anyone else here have smelt for breakfast in the Zanzibar Room?

Pretty tasty, heads off, deep fried… though I’ve never eaten them when fully awake.

Pretty mild tasting fish. What I would put in the “whitefish” category of flavor.

Often, the breading/seasoning overpowers the taste of the fish. Depends on who does the cooking.

The Big Boy restaurant chain used to offer a smelt plate that was pretty good.

Back when I was in college smelt were plentiful and cheap. Not so much either anymore.

In my experience - beheaded and gutted, but still containing the bones and the tail. Just crunch up the bones with everything else, they’re pretty small and soft.

The smelt in Lake Michigan started crashing in the late 1980’s - again, no one is entirely sure why, although overfishing might have been a factor. By the 1990’s they were no longer the very cheap protein of my college days.

Lake smelt (from Superior) have a light, fresh taste and, no, they don’t stink. They are often served breaded and fried as a breakfast protein at this time of year. I don’t see them served at other times of the year unless they’ve been frozen.

We used to have smelt all the time at home when I was a kid. My mom would pan fry it Bengali-style in mustard seed oil with onions. Delicious. I think it used to come from the grocery without heads but authentic Bengali cuisine would leave the heads on. You could eat the whole thing, bones and all.

It’s very mild. No strong fish flavor.

My first memory of smelt was 40 years ago as a kid at at restaurant called “My Place 4” or similar in Chicago. My grandfather often dined out and this was one of his spots.

I’ve had them in the last few years. Hagen’s, a local fish place has them regularly. They have a lake-y, fresh water fish flavor, not unpleasant but not quite as mild as, say, Gorton’s fish sticks. I like them a lot.

I used to dip them out of the creeks feeding Lake George in upstate New York. They eliminated the season on smelt back in the 1980’s as I recall to to preserve them as feed fish for the lake salmon and trout that had more value as game fish and tended to bring tourist dollars into the area.

I’m sure I had them when I grew up in Illinois. Are they the small fish you eat bones and all? I remember not liking the texture.

There’s also sardines and anchovies.