Fried Smelt Recipe
Appetizers,  Events,  Fish,  Game Day,  Holiday,  Kids,  Wisconsin

Fried Smelt

As you may or may not know, Wisconsin is huge when it comes to the Friday fish fry. I know I’ve mentioned this a couple of times, however Wisconsinites take their fish fry pretty seriously. I know that when I moved to Dallas to start my career, I was actually a bit bummed that they had no clue as to what a Friday fish fry actually was. Now sure, Texans knew how to fry fish, but it was not the same as the beer battered fish we would have up north.

Of my pickiest eaters, my son actually got turned onto the classic fish fry many years ago, and to this day he loves it. Both of my boys love fishing right now as well and have already learned to filet a variety of fishes. That being said, they still love the fish fry.  There is fish fry you normally do not see much of anymore in Wisconsin, and that is the smelt fry. You are normally offered cod, perch, and maybe bluegill or walleye for the fish fry, but rarely ever smelt. So as my kids love a great fish fry, as well as pretty much anything battered and fried, I thought I would offer up fried smelt and see how they would like them. I mean LOVE them.

Fried Smelt Recipe

Let’s get started.


  • 1 lb smelt, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp salt, plus an extra pinch
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 Thai chili pepper, smashed, cut in half (optional)
  • 2 cups of canola oil
  • lemon wedges, optional

The great thing about these fried smelt is that they cook up really quickly.

Start by heating your oil into a pot, over medium, to medium-high heat. You’ll want your oil temp around 350 degrees.

During this time, add the rice flour and cornstarch to a bowl. Mix well, then add in the teaspoon of salt. Add in the smelt, and toss to make sure all of the smelt are evenly coated.

Prepare your garlic, ginger, and Thai chili.

How to make fried smelt

Once the oil is heated, shake off any excess flour from the smelt and carefully add them into the pot. Work in small batches.

These should only take a few minutes to cook and they will float when finished. Ensure they have a nice and cripsy coating. Once cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them onto a paper lined plate. Season with a bit of salt.

Repeat until the rest are finished cooking. Once all of the smelt are done cooking and seasoned, add them to a serving bowl, and toss with the garlic, ginger, and Thai chili for extra flavor.

When my kids first questioned what they were, and trust me they were a bit skeptical at trying them, I just said go ahead and try them, they are like fish French fries. They heard that crunch when I bit into mine, and then, well just say the rest is history. Those fried smelt were gone in a matter of minutes they loved them that much. Getting a bit of garlic and ginger, along with accents from the Thai chili are best, that and a bit of freshly squeezed lemon.

From what I understand, smelting is no longer welcomed as much in the great lakes. This is probably one of the reasons you are not seeing an abundance of them on menus in Wisconsin.

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