Whoever Smelt It, Dealt It: Fried Smelt (Dilis)


I was at my friendly neighborhood Filipino fish market recently and came across some very fresh-looking, bright-eyed, finger-length Smelt. After spotting these little fishies, a lightbulb deep fryer appeared over my head and I immediately got a craving for Dilis: Filipino fried smelt, or fried anchovies.

So I had my fishmonger (you remember my fishmonger don’t you?) pack me a couple pounds of the silvery sea creatures and off I went.

For my version of Dilis, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible so as to not overpower the delicate flavors of the Smelt (they’re a little sweet and nutty, believe it or not). So I decided to not gut the Smelt. Seriously. These fish are so small that I didn’t see any need to eviscerate them. And besides, many of them were oozing with roe–the same tiny orange Smelt eggs that you may often see on sushi. So I didn’t want to waste the tasty roe by gutting the fish.

What’s that you say? You want to gut your fish? OK, OK. If you must gut your Smelt, here’s an easy way to do it:



Using a pair of kitchen shears, just snip through both sides of the belly from the tail to the collar.


Rinse the insides of the fish under gently running water and use your fingers to pull the guts out.

So whether you gut your Smelt or not (I prefer not to), dredge the whole fish in rice flour seasoned with black pepper. After dredging in the rice flour, I fried the fish in hot oil, then sprinkled some fine Ilocano sea salt and some roughly chopped parsley over the just-fried fish. The rice flour coating on the Smelt gives them a nice, light crispness–making them the best French fries you’ll ever eat, and a great pairing with a cold beer.

The finished fish are eaten Pippi Longstocking-style, they are devoured whole–heads, bones, tails and all (guts and roe if you’ve left them). Don’t worry, Smelt are so small that you won’t notice the bones, and the heads are actually sweet and mild like the rest of the fish.


Whoever denied it, supplied it.

Although the Dilis are tasty just like that, I also like to serve them with a Sawsawan (Filipino dipping sauce) of soy, vinegar, and sliced Thai bird chilies. And that’s it. Easy right?

And for those of you not into frying fish, I’ve got another Smelt recipe coming soon, so stay tuned…

In the meantime:


Smelt Fries (Filipino Dilis)

Filipino Fried Smelt with Spicy Soy-Vinegar Dipping Sauce


    For the Smelt Fries
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound fresh Smelt
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • Fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • For the dipping sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Filipino cane, or coconut vinegar
  • 1-2 Thai chilies, thinly sliced


    For the Smelt Fries
  1. Combine the rice flour and black pepper in a shallow baking dish.
  2. Dredge the fish in the rice flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour from the fish. Place the coated fish on a cookie sheet and set aside.
  3. Pour about 1-inch of oil into a large skillet or frying pan over medium high heat. Heat the oil until hot and shimmering (about 375 degrees F).
  4. Working in batches, place the coated fish in the hot oil and fry, turning frequently, until golden brown, 3-4 minutes total.
  5. Transfer the fried fish to a paper towel-lined platter. Season to taste with sea salt, then garnish with parsley. Serve with dipping sauce.
  6. For the dipping sauce
  7. Combine the soy, vinegar and chilies in a small bowl. Serve with fried fish.

  • BG Eraña-Quesada June 16, 2013, 3:20 pm

    Yum! And I’ll wait for the Smelt recipe, the sequel.

  • BG Eraña-Quesada June 16, 2013, 3:20 pm

    Yum! And I’ll wait for the Smelt recipe, the sequel.

  • Merisi in Vienna June 16, 2013, 8:56 pm

    Delicious, I’ll head right over! 😉

  • Sigh June 17, 2013, 11:01 am

    My father used to always have some form of dried fish with every meal, until sodium intake had to be monitored. Dried dilis was the most common, next to tuyo. I haven’t found them here in the Bay Area.

  • Edie June 18, 2013, 12:08 pm

    My dad’s specialty was kinilaw. He would patiently debone the dilis and marinate it in a combination of white vinegar, calamansi juice, finely chopped onions and ginger, and siling labuyo. We had to wait for a few hours for the fish to “cook” but it was worth it.

  • joey @ 80 breakfasts June 21, 2013, 2:58 am

    “the best French fries you’ll ever eat” –> So true!! Love this! And the head is the best part! :)

  • Ann June 21, 2013, 4:33 pm

    Marvin, normally I love your recipes, but when it comes to smelt a big NO. Being from the Northwest, I had fresh smelt growing up, being a mushy fleshed fish and the fact you didn’t have to gut it did not endear it to me. Thankfully salmon, clams (butter, razor, and geoduck), and dungeness crab were also available.

  • Marlene Jackson July 15, 2013, 9:01 am

    Anchovy is actually the dilis in the Philippines. We lived by the ocean, and smelt is not dilis to us. Sorry :)

  • iya September 1, 2013, 9:36 pm

    so that’s the easy way to gut a tiny fish! i love the photos. and i love how yummy looking your crispy dilis turned out. champorado na lang ang kulang!

    love your blog. cant wait to have a copy of your book. congrats!

  • Daphne K. September 3, 2013, 10:16 am

    Holy crud, this is a must for my guy buddies when they’re over at my place to watch the games. They love the play of the hot, crispy/crunchy smelts and washing it down with some icy-cold brews.
    Think I might have to make some tonight to go with rice and some chopped tomatoes on the side!

  • Adin Blankenship January 10, 2014, 12:10 pm

    It’s funny we just had some fried breaded Smelt the other day. We were at the store the other day and he wasn’t sure if Smelt was good to eat so he asked the guy standing next to him if it was fit to eat. The guy looked at my husband and said, that’s bait. LOL! I guess he won’t know how good dilis is. Then my husband looked at me and asked me if Smelt is good to eat. I said, heck yeah! Yummy!

  • Mr. Ritovado February 18, 2014, 8:38 pm

    Gutting Anchovies/Smelt? Now that’s soooo funny! Maybe later on Smelt Fillets?


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