Happy Spring! Michigan Smelt with a Spanish Twist

Monahan's Seafood Market | Fresh Whole Fish, Fillets, Shellfish, Recipes, Catering & Lunch Counter-Ann Arbor, Michigan

Crispy, sweet, with a pinch of salt, what in the world is better than a plate of Michigan lake smelt to celebrate springtime? Here’s a brief history about these little gems and last week’s report was supposed to be about them, but of course they didn’t show up on time to get a recipe and a photo out to ya!


Well this week things are looking better! We’ve had lovely little smelt all week and we’re hoping for more for this Mother’s day weekend. Flash fried and served with tartar sauce and lemon is pretty much the custom in these parts but our recipe for the Japanese Izukaya favorite, Nanbanzuke, turned out to be amazing. Fried then pickled in a marinade of dashi, rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce and hot pepper flakes and topped with daikon radish and carrots, the combination of flavors gets the taste buds dancing. That recipe was so good; I thought it would be nice to try another cooked, then pickled fish dish called escabeche.

The recipe was brought to Spain by early Moorish invaders and has since spread all over the world. Originally it may have been a way to preserve meats, fish and vegetables before refrigeration. The Spanish use mainly fish and versions of this dish are huge all over Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Asia. The Filipino version is a thicker sweet and sour marinade that uses brown sugar and soy sauce (very tasty). The Spanish version is a bit less sweet and sometimes has fresh herbs, cumin and paprika. In Jamaica, scotch bonnet peppers give their “escavitch” a real kick. Our version is a combo from different places. When you’re cooking down your marinade, you can experiment with whatever flavors you like. Add hot peppers, paprika maybe raisins. Come up with your very own recipe. Have some fun with it!

Smelt works great for this recipe but rich whole fish like sardines or fillets of Spanish or king mackerel or salmon also work very well.

Monahan's Seafood

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