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Fried smelts with burnt lemon

Give these tiny fish a crispy coating of crunchy cornmeal and quick fry for maximum enjoyment. Don’t forget a squeeze of burnt lemon!



  • Vegetable oil, for frying and searing
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1-2 sprigs basil with leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 2 cups (470ml) flour
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) fine cornmeal
  • 1 pound (454 g) cleaned smelts
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) sambal
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) orange juice


  1. Heat oil in a high-sided skillet to 300° F (150° C). Heat a separate cast-iron skillet to high heat.
  2. Add a drizzle of vegetable oil to the hot cast iron skillet.
  3. Carefully sear the cut sides of the quartered lemon on the skillet until black for three to four minutes, being mindful of the sputtering oil. Reserve lemons for serving.
  4. Add the basil to the hot oil in the high-sided skillet and fry until crispy, around 30 seconds, again being mindful of any oil spatters.
  5. Repeat for the rosemary and sage. Lay fried herbs on a paper towel-lined sheet pan. 
  6. Increase the temperature of the oil to 350° F (175° C).
  7. In a ramekin, combine the mayonnaise, sambal, and orange juice. Stir to mix and set aside,
  8. Combine flour and cornmeal in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Place smelts in a strainer. Toss with the flour-cornmeal mixture. Shake off excess.
  9. Fry the smelts in batches, turning and agitating with a wire strainer as needed to cook evenly, until golden brown and crisp, about five minutes.
  10. Remove smelts to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Season with salt.
  11. Serve immediately with burnt lemon wedges, dipping sauce, and fried herbs (to garnish). Enjoy! 

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