Growing up, I had a shit kicking, High Life drinking, roof laying, neighbor next door. He was also the first person I ever saw grilling in the rain under an umbrella, with a beer can and Marlboro smoking in one hand, turning brats with a serving fork in the other.
Beside the yelling, cursing, racist propagating and abusive familial relating going-on year round, this family can claim my first best friend, my first video game football touchdown (on Atari 5200), and also my appreciation for Bob Uecker’s voice crackling Brewer’s play-by-play through AM airwaves, and not surprisingly my taste for fried smelt.
Back then the crank nets would come out once a year, cast off of the McKinley Marina pier, snagging multitudes of mid sized bait fish. My neighbors would bequeath a 5 gallon bucket or so of smelt upon my family every summer.
Those days of smelt fishing on Milwaukee’s corner of Lake Michigan left long ago. Not to be forgotten, recently I noticed smelt popping up again in Pick N’ Save and even Whole Foods’ fresh seafood sections.
Get Ready to Play
I got a call from an old college buddy of mine, with a ticket to Brewer’s opening day 2013? I hadn’t been since I wasn’t supposed to be there legally boozing… An idea formed instantaneously. Needing only the occasion, I thought craftily to myself, “let the commiserating of old times begin!”
Some Old Charcoals
It’s like all the days at the Park that came before and all the days that will come after, this year the atmosphere spits crisp gusts of pre-spring air down on thousands of revelers in the mid-morning pale sun. Bumpers hold brews and bags of chips, buns and what-have-you fixings for the tailgating, my party’s got a special guest.
A hoard of headless smelt lay prone packed on top of each other, wrapped in a thin film of plastic and secured in stiff brown butcher shop wax paper. Unwrapped, they nonchalantly slide past each other looking for the nearest resistance to hold them from spilling everywhere.
Ten in the morning is too early for brats, and thats why these here smelt are here. Seasoned and ready the cast iron pan catches the match light flame, too hot for grill cooking, heating the oil to a boil. Old Bay’s and salt are already mixed in the cornmeal, waiting for the smelt to take a dip and shake. Prepped, the smelt go for a swim in the pan for a couple of minutes, out and ready to eat like fish french fries.
The commotion draws the attention of a few weathered tailgaters. They exclaim “Aw yeah, Smelt!” A new opening day tradition is born.
Opening Day Smelt Batter Recipe
Yellow Corn Meal (I use the Quaker round container. You may have to pour a little out to make shake room)
Old Bay’s Seasoning
Add to the Corn Meal
3 heaping Tbsp of Old Bay’s Seasoning
1 Tbsp of Table Salt
Shake to mix
Add 3-5 smelt at a time to the mix and shake to cover smelt
Drop in hot oil and fry for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes
Remove and let rest on a paper towel