Lake Superior-caught smelt is the featured act in this season's first edition of Market Watch.

Bruce Wry (pictured above, in a photograph by my colleague Tom Wallace) and his son Bruce Wry Jr. were bundled up for the uncooperative weather and selling the small, silver-skinned fish last weekend at the 2011 opening day of the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

I have to admit that the sight of many tiny eyes appearing through plastic freezer bags was at first a bit disconcerting; that doesn't happen with asparagus, green onions and other late-spring farmers market staples. Father and son caught them near Ashland, Wis., and were selling them in 2- and 6-lb. bags.

Many smelt-loving Minnesotans get their annual taste of the oily, sardine-like fish at the smelt fries that take place at various fellowship halls around the state. But preparing them at home is a snap. An easy-to-prepare recipe, below, is a great way to make the most of this seasonal treat. 

 

 

But first, here's a quick farmers market update:The St. Paul Farmers Market also debuted last weekend at its main downtown St. Paul location, and is operating on its standard Saturday-Sunday schedule. Opening this week: the Minneapolis Farmers Market's Nicollet Mall branch (Thursday), the St. Paul Farmers Market's Mary, Mother of the Church location in Burnsville (Thursday), the St. Paul Farmers Market's St. Thomas More location (Friday), the Midtown Farmers Market and Mill City Farmers Market (both Saturday) and the St. Paul Farmers Market's Roseville and Andover locations (Tuesday).

GREAT LAKES SMELT FRY

Serves 6.

Note: From “The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining” by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (William Morrow, $24.95). “You may not associate frenzy with the Midwest, but you probably haven’t been there during a spring smelt run,” write the Jamisons in their James Beard award-winning cookbook. “When smelt head inland to spawn, otherwise sane people traipse out to the edge of the lake in the dark of night, when it’s likely to be bone-chillingly cold. Many of them just scoop the small silvery fish from the icy waters with a bucket and then pan-sizzle the fish whole, removing the bones with the head after it’s cooked. We like them best with the simplest of cornmeal coatings, served on paper plates, which is the way you’ll find them at the region’s all-you-can-eat American Legion fries.”

2 ½ c. stone-ground cornmeal, preferably yellow

1 ½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

At least 1 gallon peanut or other vegetable oil for deep-frying

50 smelt, about 2 oz. each (about 4 lbs. total)

Lemon wedges

Tartar sauce (see recipe)

Directions

In a shallow bowl or dish, combine cornmeal, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. In a large stockpot or other sturdy pot, warm at least 6 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Dredge fish with cornmeal mixture, a few at a time. Holding the fish by the tail, slip them head-first into the oil. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a temperature of 350 degrees. Fry fish for about five minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Remove from oil and drain on a rack. Serve hot, with lemons and tartar sauce.

 

TARTAR SAUCE

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From "The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining."

1 c. mayonnaise

1 tbsp. minced dill pickle

1 tbsp. minced pickled jalapeno

2 tsp. drained and rinsed small capers or minced large capers

2 tsp. freshly minced dill (or 1 tsp. dried dill)

1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ tsp. Dijon mustard

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, dill pickle, jalapeno, capers, dill, lemon juice and mustard. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Tartar sauce can be prepared up to a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.