Why don’t Americans eat smelt more often? I have a theory: for starters, it’s called smelt. Not the prettiest word, amirite? Secondly, smelt slightly resemble anchovies and there’s that whole anchovies-on-pizza revulsion thing from our collective Saturday morning TMNT cartoon childhoods. But let’s be real: smelt is delicious. And if it were called, I dunno, Maritime butterfish or Japanese elvenfish, they’d fly off the shelves.
This is my favorite way to enjoy smelt: dusted with flour, fried to a crisp, and covered in heaps of garlic. A perfect finger food. These are addictive. You have been warned.
2 or 3 large garlic cloves
3/4 pound smelt, cleaned
1/2 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons umeboshi (pickled ume plums), pitted and minced to a paste
2 cups flour
vegetable oil for deep frying
1. Thinly slice the garlic cloves. In a medium saucepan, heat 1/2 inch of oil. On low heat, fry the garlic slices until lightly golden, about 7-9 minutes. With a fine mesh sieve, transfer the garlic to a plate. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, sugar, and umeboshi. Add the smelt and leave to marinade for 15 to 30 minutes.
3. In the same saucepan as the garlic oil, add enough oil to reach 2 inches and heat to medium-high. Remove the smelt from the marinade, dredge in flour, and add to the saucepan. Deep fry until golden and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, drain smelt on a paper-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.
4. Garnish the smelt with the garlic chips and serve warm.