I am from Rancagua, a small town, 60 miles south of Santiago, the capital. My town is a copper and agro-business town, surrounded by farmland and copper mountains. While growing up, a usual activity for the weekend was to go fishing at the Rapel river.
When my grandfather and uncles went fishing it was a sure thing we would be soon eating fried smelt. As children, we loved it that they let us eat them holding the fried fishes from the tail, without utensils.
Here in the US, smelt began to appear in my supermarket, Central Market Houston last year, they are cheap and smaller than the ones we used to catch and they bring them in winter. You will need to prepare them to be able to enjoy them the Chilean way, but with a little patience you can do it at home and they taste the same. In the US, they fry them whole.
I used our family traditional frying batter, my grandmother used to make it with beer.
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- 2 pounds smelt
- 1 cup flour
- 3/4 cup beer or white wine
- salt, pepper, paprika, and cumin
- oil for frying (4-5 cups)
- Open the smelt along the side, locate the backbone and cut at the tail, carefully lift the backbone to remove it with the bones.
- Heat the oil in a skillet or pan with high walls, the walls must be about 2″ deep. Wait until it reaches 180C or 375F.
- In a bowl place the flour and whisk with a fork while adding beer, add salt, pepper, and a pinch of paprika and cumin. The batter should be thick, and milkshake like.
- To test the oil, let a little batter fall, it should float and begin to brown immediately. Try and see if the batter tastes good to you. Adjust the seasoning.
- Dip the smelt in the batter, you want a thin layer covering the fish and gently place into the hot oil.
- Fry 1-2 minutes per side until golden.
- Check the seasoning again. Adjust if necessary.
- Remove the fried smelt to a tray covered with paper towels.
- Serve hot.