Freshwater Smelt at the Brother’s Bistro in Ottawa
In the Maritime Province of New Brunswick, where I grew up, Smelt, also known as ‘Éperlan’, are a small sea fish, typically deep-fried whole with head still attached, and eaten as a snack with beer. I had always assumed that all Smelt were Saltwater fish until I came across the dish you see above at the now closed Brother’s Bistro in Ottawa’s Byward Market. They were described as having been harvested from Lake Erie, which surprised me, and they turned out to be very nice indeed.
It turns out, after doing a little research, that there are actually a number of different lake-fish that go by the name ‘Smelt’, and the restaurant wasn’t, as I first suspected, mislabelling their food. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered with this particular appetizer, even though I like Smelt well enough, but I was curious to see what the freshwater sort might be like.
Anyway… I was surprised when I was served my platter as the fish were headless, deboned, and butterflied, rather than being served whole, and they were also breaded. The sort I am used to are quite a bit smaller and so you can eat the heads and bones quite easily. They are also usually just rolled in a bit of flour before frying rather than being battered or breaded.
The flavor of the fish wasn’t actually all that different from the ones I have had in the past. Normally, I prefer the slightly briny, marine flavor of sea-fish, and find the freshwater varieties a bit ‘muddy’ tasting. These, however, were very delicate in flavor and quite sweet.
There was a white sauce on the side described as ‘Tartar Sauce’ but which was anything but. Tartar Sauce is mayonnaise based and this was some sort of sour cream or yoghurt concoction that was absolutely awful and didn’t go with the dish at all. Aside from that though, these little fish were very nicely done and I very much enjoyed them.