Growing up on PEI, it was customary in our home to always have a “feed” of smelt fish sometime during the winter.
Smelts are a winter catch and, therefore, a winter meal in many households on PEI. Sport fishers set up camp on the frozen waterways around the Island. By setting up camp, I mean they haul little buildings, locally referred to as “smelt shacks” out onto the ice. It is from the ‘comfort’ of these tiny rustic shelters that they fish for smelts, typically using spears or nets, to catch the tiny fish below the ice surface. Smelts, in general, measure about 5 ”- 7” long. The picture below was taken of a smelt shack community in Summerside, PEI.
I am making an effort to honor my self-imposed commitment of trying one new recipe or dish a week for 2012. So, when I saw fresh smelts at the local supermarket, I decided a “feed” was in order; I figured this would qualify for a new recipe because I had never actually cooked them before. When my Mom cooked the smelts, she would simply dip and coat the cleaned fish in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and pan fry them in butter or oil. Smelts were usually served in our house with homemade bread and butter although some would also serve potatoes boiled in their jackets.
I decided to jazz up the breading a bit so I mixed some spices into the flour for dredging the smelts. I added a bit of garlic and onion powders along with a smidgeon of cayenne pepper and dried mustard. The smelts were fried in olive oil and I served them with seasoned oven-roasted potato wedges and homemade mustard pickles.