"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fried Herb Marinated Smelt (Little Fish)

Do you know how children get excited when they enter a candy store? Or are taken to their favorite playground? Well, my playground is Berkeley Bowl --  one of the best and freshest grocery stores I have ever shopped at.  One of the reasons why I love Berkeley Bowl is because it carries many items that take me back to my childhood home in Haiti. It carries an abundance of tropical fruits and vegetables like papayas, mangoes, avocados, beets, fresh coconuts, and guavas.  I shop there like an artist: I go in with a clean canvas and ready to paint.  I draw my inspiration from what I discover at the store when I visit.

Last Sunday, on one of my shopping visits, I discovered "Smelt" http://fishcooking.about.com/od/meetyourfish/p/smelt.htm.  These are little freshwater fish that are just perfect for frying in a pan of hot oil.  They are flavorful, succulent, and delicious.  I can eat a dozen of them in one seating. When I eat those, they remind me of Sunday dinners in Haiti with my family and friends when my Mom would fry some of those fish for us to eat as appetizers or snack on until dinner is ready. I looooove them!

If you have ever had them before, you know what I mean. If you have not, here is your chance to try them with this super easy recipe (which I made tonight after work):


1 pound of fresh smelt [I wouldn't recommend frozen ones, they're just not the same.]
1/2 of lemon juice
1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (roughly chopped)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (discard the stems)
1 green onion or scallion (roughly chopped)
1 large clove of garlic (roughly diced)
1 Tablespoon of tomato paste
Salt and Pepper to taste (if you have season salt or bouillon in the pantry, use a teaspoon of that instead of regular salt)
1 Cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of paprika (optional)
Vegetable oil (or your favorite frying oil)


  • Clean the guts out of the fish (or if you are nice to your butcher, ask your butcher to do it for you).  Some people keep the guts in, but I like to take them out. But, I keep everything else (head, tail, bones, etc.).
  • Rinse the gutted fish under cold water.
  • Put in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
  •  In the meantime, blend the cilantro, thyme, scallion, and garlic in a blender or food processor until they are finely ground.
  • Add the lemon juice, tomato paste, salt and pepper, and mix well.
  • Pour the herb/lemon mixture over the smelt in the bowl.
  • Mix together with your hands or a wooden spoon so the smelt can be marinated all over.
  • Let sit for at least 1/2 hour so the fish can soak up the seasonings.  [You can make this ahead of time and just refrigerate it in a sealed Ziploc bag overnight.]
  •  While the fish is marinating, heat up your frying oil in a deep pan until very hot (not burning, but hot).
  • Season your flour with a little bit of salt and pepper, and the paprika (if using).
  • Coat the fish with the seasoned flour.
  • Working in batches, fry the fish until golden brown (Fry 1/4 of the fish at a time so you don't overcrowd the pan, which will reduce the temperature of the oil and make your fish oily).
  • Remove and let cool on a plate lined with some paper towel to catch the excess grease.

VOILĂ€! Enjoy! Be careful . . . make sure you save some for the rest of your family!

As for a wine pairing, you can have the fish with your favorite glass of wine (red or white would be fine, depending on your mood).  If white, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio would work wonders for the palate.

    P.S. If you have kids, make sure you explain to them that these little fishies are different from the ones at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

    Until next time . . . Cheers!


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