We purchase our seafood from a local fishmonger and on our latest visit, he gave me a package of smelts. Neither my husband nor I had ever eaten smelt, though we see the fishing shacks, used for that fishery, on the ice here every winter.
Though we are both Newfoundlanders, we were not familiar with smelts, though they resemble capelin, which we know well.
When it comes to Prince Edward Island customs and traditions, I rely on our friend, Eleanor. She is originally from the lower north shore of Quebec, along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from a small community called St. Augustine. Her paternal grandfather was from Newfoundland too. However Eleanor married Eldon, who was originally from Prince Edward Island and has lived here for many years. She knows this island and is a wonderful cook.
Eleanor was familiar with smelts from growing up in St. Augustine, where fishing for smelts in the winter is similar to this island. There too, fish shacks are hauled onto the ice and lines are jigged through the ice for the tiny fish. Eleanor gave me a smelt cooking lesson and we had a seafood feast.
I made scallops martini which is scallops in a vodka marinade.
Eleanor made fish cakes out of salt fish which is our favourite.
I cooked shrimp and Eleanor fried the smelts or white fish as it’s called on the lower north shore of Quebec.
We had baked potato and another veg dish as well. And of course, we had dessert.
The smelts in the package were cleaned which was a great bonus. We used a thin coating of flour and seasonings and gave the fish time to brown. The trick when eating them is to slice them through the dorsal fin along the back and open the fish to expose the backbone, which is then easy to remove. They are tasty fish which my husband and I both enjoyed.
We had way too much food, but leftovers for the next day are always great. Such a seafood meal is in keeping with our heritage, though my ancestors would have been lucky to have one type of seafood at a meal. And you can bet, there wasn’t any vodka for the scallops either!