Fried smelt, Spanish style

Eating local is great, but I can’t do without ethnic markets. I really love browsing the aisles, discovering new produce, seasonings, and odd ingredients, or finding familiar things that are not usually available at regular grocery stores. A recent trip to Fiesta yielded such a find: fresh whole smelt for $0.99 a pound. Inspired by a tapa I have had in Mexico City’s Spanish cantinas, I made boquerones fritos, fried whole as an appetizer.

First you must wash them, cut the heads off and clean the insides. A small, sharp knife is ideal. Then rinse briefly in running water:

If you are strange like my husband, make a pile of fish heads and shoot them from different angles:

Rolly polly fish heads...

Next, place on paper towel and pat dry carefully. Let them sit there for a few minutes to dry thoroughly:

Meanwhile, season some flour with salt, pepper, and garlic powder (optional) and a hint of smoked paprika or Cayenne if you want them a bit spicy. Dredge the fish in the flour:

Get your cast iron skillet, add about an inch of olive oil and heat until almost smoking. Carefully drop them in the oil and stir gently to make sure they do not stick together or to the bottom:

Fry until golden and crisp perfection is achieved. Drain on paper towels for a minute, adding more seasonings if desired. Serve with lemon wedges (I had key limes) and a cold beer or a glass of Albariño or Vinho verde. Happy days.

Total cost: $0.99.   Total prep time from guts to plate: 30 minutes   Fun factor: high.    Taste: killer

Posted in Recipes and tagged , , .


  1. This brings back lots of memories. In michigan when the smelt are “running” we would stay out on the beach all night catching them in the large nets and cooking them up just like this on a beach fire!

  2. Me encantó este post! Aqui ya hemos preparado lo que en huercolandia les llamamos “charalitos”… yyyyuuummmiiii
    Y me puede encantar más la foto de las cabecillas! Nice!

  3. I also love ethnic markets and was just visiting a new (to me) Mexican grocery store last Sat. I was especially interested in the baked goods, cheeses, herbs and seafood, but would not have had the courage to purchase smelts. Now that I am armed with a little knowledge, I might be bold.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *