Beer Battered Smelt


My impulse buy at the grocery store yielded tonight’s recipe for the Wisconsin tradition of Friday Fish Fry.

Fish fry is so popular on Friday nights that even Sushi restaurants have it.  Even Mexican restaurants have it.

People that never go out to eat, still go out on Friday nights for Fish Fry.  And beer battered fish fry is the tradition.

It’s not a light tempura coating, it’s a rich coating that yields a satisfying crunch and a deep color that grows off of the fish like a a quartz.  Sometimes it seems a little oily, sometimes not.  In Wisconsin, fish fry comes with cole slaw, fries, tartar sauce, and wedges of lemon.  If they offer you potato pancakes OR french fries…well, that means they know what they are doing.  If they nonchalantly ask if you want sour cream or apple sauce with those potato pancakes…well…do what you want.  I like the apple sauce.

Smelt are almost never available for fish fry any more. They are little lake fish, about 4 inches long, that used to be prevalent in this area. As they began to disappear from the lakes they were replaced by more readily available fish like perch or bluegill.  Today, cod is the most common fish at restaurants.

These little guys were fresh caught in Canada, our friendly neighbors to the North.  As you can see, they were completely cleaned and have no faces.  I’ve eaten them whole, and once they are fried you can eat them completely.


I do have a gluten free recipe for fish fry and will share that another time.  For now, enjoy a traditional beer battered fish, and use the batter on any fish you like.


Beer Battered Smelt

1/2 pound smelt (feeds about 4 if you have sides)

1 C all purpose flour plus more for coating fish prior to cooking

1 t baking soda

1/4 t garlic salt plus more for sprinkling


super cold beer

2 T lemon juice

Hot oil

Put your beer in the freezer to get it really cold.  Pat the fish dry and then coat in flour.  Let it sit there while you do everything else.


Heat up your dutch oven to just under just under medium.  If you have a deep fryer go ahead and use that and get the setting to what they recommend for fish.

Whisk the flour, garlic salt, a few turns of the pepper mill, and the baking soda in a glass dish.  Get your lemon juice ready.  Lay out paper bags to lay the cooked fish on.

Once the dutch oven is hot, pour in enough oil to make it deep enough to handle the fish.  I made the mistake of not having enough grapeseed oil so I had to add olive oil when I cooked this, but I prefer straight grapeseed oil.

Get your beer out of the freezer and slowly pour in, bit by bit, whisking constantly.  I can’t give an exact measurement, but it’s usually about less than 6 oz at the end.  You want no lumps, and runny, but not liquid like milk.  Just a cohesive batter that pours in an even stream off the whisk.

Add about 1 T of the lemon juice and whisk it in fast.  I usually stop to watch it bubble up, but that’s just me.  Grab your little fish by the tail, shake off any excess flour and swirl it into the batter.  Gently lay it into the oil.  Just one to begin with.

Cook the first fish by itself.  It takes like 2 minutes.  Once it’s just about done, start putting in the others.  As you pull each fish out and drain them on the paper bag, sprinkle them with some more of the garlic salt.

About 1/2 way through, grab the lemon remaining lemon juice and whisk into the batter to get more fizz.

I think smelt is best served in a pile!  Let everyone dig in and enjoy!


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