Fried Smelt With Garlic Swiss Chard

Deep-fried smelt
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Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 3 to 6 servings
Yield: 36 to 72 smelt
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
552 Calories
27g Fat
37g Carbs
45g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 552
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 27g 35%
Saturated Fat 4g 19%
Cholesterol 212mg 71%
Sodium 1563mg 68%
Total Carbohydrate 37g 14%
Dietary Fiber 9g 34%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 45g
Vitamin C 99mg 495%
Calcium 685mg 53%
Iron 9mg 52%
Potassium 1784mg 38%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

One of the most classic ways to cook smelt is to fry them. Lots of people use batter, and I really like them in the light tempura batter occasionally used with halibut. But you can go even lighter by just dredging them in seasoned flour and sauteing them in olive oil, like in this recipe. I include the chard and garlic because they work well with the smelt; you could also use spinach or kale.


  • 3 to 6 dozen fresh or thawed smelt, depending on your appetite

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, for frying

  • 1 whole bunch Swiss chard, about 2 pounds

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

For the Seasoned Flour:

  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour, you can substitute all-purpose

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste

  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 to 2 lemons, wedged, for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Make the seasoned flour by mixing the flour, salt, garlic powder, cayenne, mustard powder, and black pepper. (It should not taste overpowering, as the seasonings are there to accent the fish, not hide it.)

  3. Lay the smelt out on a platter and salt them well.

  4. Heat a large frying pan over high heat for a minute or two. Turn the heat down to medium-high and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan by about 1/8 inch. You do not want the smelt swimming in oil. Let this oil heat up for 2 to 3 minutes, or until you see it begin to ripple on the surface.

  5. While the oil is heating, dredge your smelt in the flour and set aside on a dry spot. Lay out some paper towels to drain them later.

  6. When the oil is hot, arrange your smelt in one layer with room between each one and fry over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Turn and fry for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.

  7. Set your smelt aside and add the chard. Turn and stir it constantly, while sprinkling in the garlic powder and a bit of salt. The chard will release a lot of water, so when it does, turn the heat up to high and keep stirring until it is all wilted, about 3 minutes.

  8. To serve, lay down a bit of chard and arrange the smelt on top. Serve with lemon wedges for a bit of acidity.

  9. Enjoy!


  • Plan on six to eight smelt per person for an appetizer. If serving as a main course, double that portion.
  • When frying, the trick is to do most of the cooking on one side, giving you that pretty golden crust. You give the other side less time because you don't want overcooked fish inside that pretty golden crust.
  • Smelt are very small and all parts of the fish are edible, including the head. But feel free to chop the heads off before serving if you'd like.
  • What to drink? A hoppy ale or a pilsner is perfect here, as would a sparkling wine such as Prosecco. You could also go with a crisp white, such as Chenin blanc or Verdelho.
  • Fresh anchovies can be substituted in place of smelt, as they are also excellent cooked this way.