Saturday, January 2, 2010

Eating fish whole: Smelts

Since different parts of a fish have different types of nutrients that are important for our health, it makes sense to consume the fish whole. This is easier to do with small than big fish.

One of my favorite types of small fish is the smelt; the photo below shows a batch of smelts that I prepared using the recipe below. Another small fish favorite is the sardine. Small fish are usually low in the food chain, and thus have very low concentrations of metals that can be toxic to humans.


Many people dislike the taste of smelts, but will eat them if they are well seasoned and their texture is somewhat hard. Here is a recipe that will get you that.

- Steam cook the smelts for 30 minutes to 1 hour (less time = harder texture).
- Spread the steam cooked smelts on a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil; use light olive oil to prevent the fish from sticking to the foil.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Season the steam cooked smelts to taste; I suggest using salt, chili powder, garlic powder, and herbs.
- Bake the smelts for 30 minutes, turn the oven off, and leave them there for 1 hour.

There is no need to clean, or gut, the smelts for the recipe above. Since they feed primarily on plant matter, and have a very small digestive tract, there is not much to be “cleaned” off of them anyway.

They will be ready to store or eat cold. There are several variations of this recipe. For example, you can bake them for 40 minutes, and then serve them hot.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yum... I wonder what the breakdown of macronutrients and vitamins/minerals are for a small fish like this?

Ned Kock said...

The link below provides some estimates of various nutrients:

http://caloriecount.about.com/calories-smelt-rainbow-i15100

Ned Kock said...

Here is another link with estimates of various nutrients:

http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/finfish-and-shellfish-products/4126/2

At the end, it contains more details than the caloriecount link.

smelt said...

do u eat the heads as well? what about the tails?

Ned Kock said...

Everything. The bones are a good source of calcium; the organs provide vitamins and other minerals.

Heather Twist said...

I've been enjoying small fish eaten this way. They are very satisfying! When the fish are bigger, you can cut them in half and broil them, bone side up, which makes the bones crispy. This is a typical Japanese way of eating fish. They also marinate them first in a salty water ... something that is often done seaside, using sea water (the Upik do this when they smoke salmon: it makes the fish less likely to go bad during smoking).

Also, you can use an silicone mat instead of foil, which makes cleanup easy.

One caveat to eating whole fish though: if a fish is kept too long without gutting it, enzymes in the innards produce breakdown products in the meat that can cause scombroid poisoning. I knew someone who almost died from that, from commercial salmon. Which makes me wonder about some of the Asian fish which are sold without being gutted: are the Asians more used to the histamines that might be produced? Or are they simply more careful about handling the un-gutted fish?

Ned Kock said...

You are right. It is a histamine-induced problem. However, I thought that scromboid was caused by eating decayed fish muscle, not organs. This is why it is a good idea to smell the fish after unfreezing it, just to be sure. Decayed fish has a strong, unpleasant smell. I do not think Asians are particularly tolerant of histamine, but I am not sure.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, being a Chinese, we gut and clean all our fish before cooking.

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well until the fish it's healthy I guess there's no problem by the way fish it's very healthy.

Anonymous said...

You steam them for 30 minutes then bake them for another 30 minutes to an hour??? Why so much cooking for such little fish? Is there anything left of them after that?

WebGoddess said...

Thanks for this info. I was looking for a synopsis for friends and you said it very well. Low on the food chain is good especially considering that now the tuna are showing up with cesium isotopes from fukushima... not to blame japan, we create plenty of our own mess here in the states and elsewhere...

John Clark said...

Ned Kock, you are something else! I bought a pound of smelts, and did what you said. Or at least started to. After a minute of steaming, those delicate fish were turned to mush! And you say half an hour, then bake for 30 minutes to an hour? This is absurd, and suggests you are a mischief-making spammer and troller. Everybody, ignore him, please, or just delete him!

Heather Twist said...

I cook smelts a fair amount, and I just dredge them in something ... usually corn meal ... and fry them quickly. If you do something more ... like put them in a jar in a pressure cooker ... then yes, they turn to mush, including the bones.

Pressure-cooked fish has it's own attractions, but I wouldn't waste it on smelt. A quick fry is all it needs.

Heather Twist said...

I cook smelts a fair amount, and I just dredge them in something ... usually corn meal ... and fry them quickly. If you do something more ... like put them in a jar in a pressure cooker ... then yes, they turn to mush, including the bones.

Pressure-cooked fish has it's own attractions, but I wouldn't waste it on smelt. A quick fry is all it needs.

Heather Twist said...

I cook smelts a fair amount, and I just dredge them in something ... usually corn meal ... and fry them quickly. If you do something more ... like put them in a jar in a pressure cooker ... then yes, they turn to mush, including the bones.

Pressure-cooked fish has it's own attractions, but I wouldn't waste it on smelt. A quick fry is all it needs.