Best Thing We Ate

Hot Catch: Steelhead Diner's Fried Smelt

By Leslie Kelly  |  July 23, 2014
Credit: Leslie Kelly

Salmon might be king on many summer menus around Seattle, but we're hooked on the season's freshest little fish. Surf smelt are caught off Camano Island, and are fatter than their cousins that are hauled in off the coast of California. Even when they're running, it's rare to find them on a menu, which makes the preparation at Steelhead Diner extra special.

The details: Chef Anthony Polizzi said he had never tried smelt until he moved to Seattle from New York, but they've become one of his favorites. The carefully cleaned fish is dipped in buttermilk and then dredged in a cayenne pepper-seasoned flour before being fried crisp. The mild-flavored fish is served whole, bones and tail still intact. "If people haven't eaten smelt, they might be adverse to eating them whole, but after a few bites, they warm up to the idea," he said. And speaking of getting warm, the accompanying cocktail sauce gets a kick from two kinds of curry powder. Polizzi says he likes the sweet fruitiness of a Madras curry blend and the warm heat a Kashmiri blend brings to the party. He buys both from the nearby World Spice.

The price: $11 for a generous starter, this incredible smelt makes a fabulous prelude to the grilled King salmon from the Nushagak River in Alaska, bringing together the best of big fish and small.