Fried Smelt

In the Rue Montorgeuil, in Paris, is a fishmonger who’s got my number. Not literally! (Not yet, anyway.) He knows I can’t resist nice seafood – and, more than that, he knows I eat everything. Yesterday, as I was walking past, he beckoned me over. It was a hot day and most of the seafood was covered or in boxes. He lifted the lid of a Styrofoam box like he was unveiling a great secret. Inside were beautiful little bright silvery fish, 10 euros a kilo! In French, éperlan. In English, SMELT! As usual, I couldn’t resist. I double fried these to make them extra crispy and served them with aioli (garlic mayonnaise). Even my dad, who’s got an aversion to anything that can look at him while he’s eating it, loved these.


¼ kilo fresh smelt

1/3 cup flour

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1-2 cups olive oil (for frying)

Coarse salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon

½ lemon, cut into wedges


Wash and dry the smelt as best you can with paper towels. Combine the flour, parsley, salt, and pepper. Toss the smelt with the flour mixture in a bowl to coat, and then shake gently in a colander to remove excess flour.

Pour olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan to about one inch deep and heat to about 180 degrees Celsius (about 350 degrees Fahrenheit), or until oil fizzes when fish is placed in pan. Fry fish in batches in a single layer until pale beige, about three minutes, and drain on a plate lined paper towels. When ready to serve, refry for another two to three minutes, until golden, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, then to a bowl. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve immediately, accompanied with lemon wedges and, if you wish, aioli.

Serves 4 as a starter, or 2 as a main dish summer lunch.

7 thoughts on “Fried Smelt

    • I do a lot of my fish shopping in Brixton Village and at farmers markets (Marylebone in particular); also at the top of Upper Tachbrook Street. If you can’t find smelt, get whitebait, which is very similar.

  1. No!!!!! Not the same at all! How can you say that?????? Also I suspect you had capelin, not smelt. They are similar, same family but NOT the same! Capelin is good but a TRUE delicacy!
    Where can I buy smelt in London? Somebody PLEASE tell me! I grew up eating smelt, miss it like mad! Found capelin in longstanding oriental market. So happy! But where I grew up it was the cheapest fish in summertime, it was everywhere, some fishetmen would give it away. And there were some people who would only buy it for their cats. Am not as picky as that but that’s just to emphasize the difference between the two fish!

    • Thanks for your comment, Maria. I didn’t say smelt and whitebait are the same. I said they are similar. I’m not sure where to find smelt in London. I was able to find it in Paris, though.

    • I bought this smelt in Paris. It’s seasonal and there are fishmongers who will carry it. The obvious answer would seem to be Billingsgate, which is worth a trip in and of itself.

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