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The European smelt is a freshwater fish in the family of smelts (lat.: Osmeridae). Its body is long, slim and slightly translucent and has a long head and pointed snout. Both jaws have strong teeth. The colour is grey-green to light olive at the back and silvery at the sides. The belly is creamy white. No lateral line is visible. European smelts can be found in European coastal waters from the Gironde in the South to the Southern North Sea of Norway and the Baltic Sea. It is also found in some large and deep lakes. Other common names are sparling, sand smelt or sea smelt. Smelts living in the ocean may reach up to 30 cm, those in lakes only grow up to 20 cm long.

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Use and preparation of European smelts

European smelts have a distinct flavour reminding of cucumber. In earlier times it was considered a poor people food and was despised by the upper classes. Even today opinions about it differ widely. In Japan and China it is a popular food fish that is served grilled or fried. It tastes exceptionally well when crumbed and fried in fresh butter. Since it is an oily fish, it is also well suited for smoking or marinating.

In Northern Germany a traditional method of preparing smelt is to toss the whole fish, including head and tail, in rye flour and fry it in clarified butter. The fish bones are very soft and may be eaten as well. The fish is usually eaten by hand and accompanied by cucumber salad and fried potatoes or potato salad.

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