Scad, pinch fins
Scad, cut spine
The examples here are Smelt, small enough to eat head bones and all, and
Round Scad, larger and with spine and head too strong to be edible. While
Smelt can be eaten "head guts and feathers", I usually gut them. Round
Scad definitely should be gutted and it comes out much less torn up if you
remove the head as shown.
- With small delicate smelts, just break in from the bottom and grab the
gills, then pull down and forward. Along with the gills all the innards
will pull out without breaking the belly.
- With a larger, tougher fish like the Scad, first pinch the bottom fins
just behind the head and pull them off.
- With your kitchen shears cut just behind the head from the top just
deep enough to sever the backbone.
- Now you can pull the head off and all the innards will come out with
it leaving the body of the fish in good condition.
- Rinse the fish and drain cavity side down.
- Select an appropriate high temperature oil. See our
Cooking Oils page for
the best choices.
- Bring your oil up to temperature. A
Surface Temperature Gun is
great here, but a long probed thermometer that goes to at least
400°F/200°C can be used. The ideal temperature is
375°F/190°C. Keep your oil well below smoking temperature at all
- Dust the fish lightly with lightly salted flour, coating just enough
for one batch and just before putting them in the oil or the batter
will be soggy.
- Make sure your oil is at the right temperature and put the fish in
(being careful not to splash). Stir occasionally until sizzling
decreases and fish is lightly browned.
- Scoop out with a wire skimmer or other device that allows the pieces
to drain freely. Drain further on paper toweling and keep warm in the
oven until ready to serve.
- Know Your Fish: (hints for many kinds of fish are
linked from our
Varieties of Fish page
(very large page). Some fish stay firm and manageable while others tend
to break up.
- Oil: Use a high temperature oil - see our
Cooking Oils page for good
choices. I use Olive Pomace which has a high smoke point and almost no
olive flavor so it won't overpower the fish, and it's quite economical.
Peanut Oil is also pretty good. Don't use Extra Virgin or any other
"unrefined" oil - they can't stand the heat.
- Temperature: Keep the temperature of your oil as close
to 375°F/190°C as you can. Keep it well below smoking
temperature at all times.
- Don't Overload Your Oil: Fry in small batches so the
temperature doesn't drop too far or you'll end up with heavy, oily fish
with a steamed flavor. Small batches finish faster so it won't take much
- Coating Fish: While I fry some fish naked, most fish I
give a light powdering of rice flour or all-purpose flour. Wheat flour
will produce a darker brown than rice flour.
- Batter for Fish: Many recipes call for coating fish
with batter, sometimes much too heavy a batter. If you want pancakes,
make pancakes, we're frying fish here. A quick dip in buttermilk
followed by a dusting of lightly salted (or seasoned) flour is generally
plenty. Dipping in egg will make the coating thicker.
- Marinading: If you marinade fish, let them soak up the
marinade for about 1/2 hour in the refrigerator. Fish spoil fast - don't
leave them out. If you use leftover marinade for a sauce bring it to
a high simmer for 5 minutes in a saucepan to make sure it's safe
- Clean-up: Clean oil off your stove as soon as possible.
heat will dry the oil into varnish which becomes more difficult to
remove with each passing hour.
- Re-using Oil: Oil degrades with use, different oils at greatly
different rates. Polyunsaturated oils (corn, soy, "vegetable") degrade
rapidly and should never be reused, while Olive is relatively durable.
See the "Oxi" column in our
Oil Chart page for relative
durability (low numbers are better). Oil that isn't yet tired and hasn't
been overheated can be used again within a reasonable time. Heat it long
enough it no longer "pops", indicating all water has been evaporated,
then Filter it still quite hot through one layer of plain (not printed)
paper towel. Store in a tightly capped jar. Don't use oil used for fish
to fry other things (unless you like them fish oil flavored).
- Fryer: The ideal device for deep frying modest
quantities of just about anything is the Indian kadhai, similar to a wok
but with somewhat different geometry (photo to left). The sides are wide
enough and high enough to contain most of the splattering and it requires
a very modest amount of oil to fry a reasonable amount of fish. They do
a lot of deep frying in India and can't afford to waste oil.
- Basket Fryer: The Western basket fryer is an efficient
and effective device but requires quite a bit of oil and tends to
splatter a lot of oil about, so be prepared to do clean-up, lots of
- Skimmer: A wire skimmer will allow the fish to drain
well as you remove it from the oil (photo to the left).
- Thermometer: An infra-red
Surface Temperature Gun is
ideal, but a thermometer with a long probe that goes up to at least
400°F/200°C can be used.