In Memory Of Karen Nicole Smith, 1972 - 2016

Memories of fry-dry sardines had me craving.

trini fry sardinesI’ve been blessed with the ability to cook most, if not all the dishes I enjoy (most) and the few that I can’t make, I usually get my mom to cook when she visits. That reminds me that I need her to come for a visit soon, to restock my freezer. Maybe I can get her to share her curry fish recipe with us… it’s to die for. Lately I’ve been having cravings for some of the dishes I grew up on and while in the market last Friday I got a flash back when I strolled pass the fish section. When was the last time I ate “fry dry sardines”? I recall my mom making that for dinner and served up with dhal and brown rice just in time for when my dad would come home from work. That man always had some sort of treat for us in his lunch bag, so it was always an eager anticipation when he opened it. Evening newspaper and a treat was always in that lunch bag of his.

I searched though the few fish stalls that were open and did manage to find one vendor with sardines, but they were a bit to big for what I had in mind (plus they were a bit mushy to the touch). The next option I had, was to use sea smelts as they were very close in size, shape and taste to the sardines we would get in the Caribbean. BTW, if you are getting smelts, note that there is a difference in taste from the fresh water variety, when compared to the sea (salt water) ones. I much prefer the sea smelts.

You’ll Need…

2 lbs smelts (see note below) (cleaned – with tail trimmed and head removed)
1/2 lime or lemon to wash the fish
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash of black pepper
1/4 hot pepper sliced thin (feel free to use your favourite hotsauce instead)
3 tablespoons cilantro (or 2-3 leaves of shado beni if you have- chopped fine)
3 cloves of garlic – crushed and then sliced thin
1 scallion sliced thin
3 sprigs of thyme

For pan frying…

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter (not margarine)
1/4 cup olive oil or whatever type of oil you have in stock.

Couple points. As mentioned above smelts are a great substitute if you can’t get fresh sardines. Also note that the traditional way of making this, includes using the heads of the fish (still attached). Since the smelts at the fish counter comes already trimmed, you may have to check in the frozen fish section of your grocery store to get some that’s complete. But that will mean you’ll have to clean them when they thaw out.

Start by washing the fish. In a bowl place the fish, squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lime or lemon and rinse with water. Then drain as best as you can and set aside. The next step is to prepare the seasonings we’ll be marinating the fish with. Go ahead and slice thin the – scallion, pepper, garlic, cilantro or shado beni and the thyme.

smelt recipe

recipe for cooking slemts

trinidad fish seasoning

Now it’s time to combine everything we just sliced up with the fish and add the salt, black pepper, curry powder (gives it a wonderful flavour) and stir. For best results, place in the fridge to marinate for a few hours. What I usually do is put it into a sealed container as not to overpower the fridge with the strong seasoning scent. I try to leave it marinating for at least 2 hrs, but after 30 minutes you can go ahead and cook. (stays well overnight as well in the fridge)

how to season fish

how to season sardines for frying

After its been marinating it’s time to fry-dry those little morsels of fishy goodness. I try to take it out of the fridge at least 10 minutes before I start fryng so it comes back up to room temperature a bit.

In a wide pan put the oil and butter to heat on medium to high heat. In the meantime, put the flour on a paper towel and onto a plate to start dusting the seasoned fish. The reason why I use a paper towel first, is that when the flour gets soggy it will stick to the bare plate and making washing up after a bit sticky. Take the fish individually out of the bowl you had it marinating in and gently roll it in the flour to get an even coat. Don’t pay attention to any bits of seasoning that may still be attached to the fish. Once fried, that will add some nice flavours when you bite into it.

seasoning smelts for frying

how to fry smelts

flour for dusting fish for frying

caribbean fry fish

Once you think the oil is hot (not smoking) …butter should have melted and you’ll start seeing little bubbles around the edges. Start adding the seasoned and dusted fish. Try not to crowd the pan with too many. Allow to cook for about 5-7 minutes on each sde and then flip to cook evenly and get a well rounded golden brown colour. If you like a bit of a crunch (crispy) texture, allow to cook a little longer. You’ll also notice that the fish will firm up  if cooked all the way though and not be limp as when you fist put them into the oil/butter.

Remove that batch and repeat that process once more (dust with flour, place in the hot oil, flip and remove when cooked.

trini fish recipe

how to fry sardines in trinidad and tobago

trini fry sardines

trinidad fry dry fish

Be sure to drain on paper towels to absorb some of the grease and try to serve hot. If you can’t prepare in time for all your guests, you can stick then in a toaster oven to reheat for a few minutes. This way it will retain it’s crispiness.

trini fry dry sardine

trinidad fry fish

As mentioned above, I love this with rise and dhal, but after the first batch was out of the pan,  I found myself eating away dipping into a mustard/ketchup/hotsauce combo sauce I made. This is also great as an appetizer (see dip recipe below), in sandwiches, as hors d’oeuvres or as a side to any normal dinner you make.

Here’s a quick and wonderful garlic mayo dip for this..

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Combine everything in a blender or food processor.

I’d love to hear from you, so please leave me your comments below in the box provided.

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  1. Joan Cayenne
    June 4, 2019 / 5:57 am

    What are smelts?

  2. Joann Birch
    April 5, 2016 / 12:17 pm

    What about the sardine scales?? How do you recommend they be removed? I catch mine fresh here in Costa Rica….. the size is dependant on the school of fish swimming by, it is normally what I feed my cats, but I dont like eating the scales….. so what would you do?

    • admin
      April 5, 2016 / 2:23 pm

      scale them? use a knife or ‘scaling device” with a sort of sweeping motion on the fish (across the grain).

  3. Nick
    July 2, 2015 / 3:24 pm

    Fried smelt was a mainstay in our Sciillian household. We usually got them from Lake Ontario. I don’t remember ever marinating them but we sure spiced up the flour. Definetly going to add your recipe to the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes at Christmas. Thanks.

    • admin
      July 2, 2015 / 4:23 pm

      a few years back, I too tried smelt fishing a few times. Oldtimers told me back in the day they were so plentiful you couldn’t even lift the nets. Sadly, we hardly got any. However some of the fishermen on the dock, had some from the night before that their wives fried for them (Portuguese and Italian men) and they shared it with us. Superb!

  4. Margaret
    June 15, 2015 / 4:28 pm

    What about the bones? Do you take them out? Are they soft enough to eat, like with sardines?

    • admin
      June 15, 2015 / 8:57 pm

      they’re usually soft enough to eat.. providing they are small sardines or smelts

  5. Marlene
    April 18, 2014 / 7:47 pm

    We call them sprats here in St.Maarten. Absolutely to die for.

  6. PatG
    October 26, 2013 / 2:30 am

    One of the reasons why I always love your recipes; you never forget to “wash” the fish with lime or lemon juice before cooking it; a true Caribbean man. It makes such a difference.

  7. PatG
    October 26, 2013 / 2:28 am

    I also have childhood memories of dry fried sardines. These days however I think I would be inclined to oil-spray a cookie sheet, lay the floured sardine on it, oil-spray them lightly so the top surface gets coated and then bake them in the toaster oven. A whole pan done at once; they don’t break up when you take them out of the fry pan; you use less oil – and at my age with one metal stent in my heart already, less oil cannot be a bad thing so long as the taste doesn’t disappear with all that oil; no standing over a hot fry pan; less time on my aging and aching feet and really I couldn’t tell the difference, especially with some nice pepper sauce or achar.

  8. Carlene
    October 21, 2013 / 9:24 am

    Believe it our not Chris when I saw this recipe I was so happy. do you know how long I’ve been craving for some of this its so hard to find dry sardines here in Baytown, Texas thanks for the recipe

  9. Amanda Torr
    October 1, 2012 / 4:14 am

    thanks Chris, I love sardines and they are cheap and plentiful in the UK. This was a great change to how I would usually cook them. First time I have tried this dish but it certainly will not be the last

  10. azk
    August 2, 2012 / 11:54 am

    Took a while to find it, but the Trini name for these little fish is "zashwa".

    • Donna Liddell
      September 17, 2022 / 7:42 am

      Your recipes are life. Thanks for describing your steps so well. I never have to guess what to do next.
      I would love a hard copy of your book whenever it becomes available again. I’m old school and love books.

  11. carol
    May 15, 2012 / 11:16 am

    Fry dry sardines have always been a favorite with me . You have taken me back to my childhood days when my mom use to do them.

  12. myrna
    January 5, 2012 / 10:18 pm

    sorry not for me

  13. D. Singh
    September 12, 2011 / 1:44 pm

    Hi Chris,
    I usually make the Sardines the same as you do and sometimes just I fry half with the curry powder and half without and I love it with rice and dhal too. I will sure try your mayonnaise and garlic dip, I never made that before and it sounds very good, thanks my friend for these wonderful ideas. God bless!

  14. Cass
    June 30, 2011 / 10:25 am

    Thanks for your recipe! I will give it a whirl.
    I simply roll them in flour, fry in butter, and eat with mustard.

  15. Dawb
    January 24, 2011 / 11:04 am

    I'm on the hunt for smelts/sardines on my next trip to the caribbean market. I too remember my mom and my older brother frying smelts. Thanks for recreating the memory, Chris.

  16. March 10, 2010 / 11:29 am

    First, thank you for visiting my site 🙂 I love the way that you prepared this fry fish, look so tasty and full of flavor…I usually do not like to fry food at home, but this is worth a try 😉
    .-= Juliana´s last blog ..CHICKEN SAUSAGE WITH BELL PEPPERS =-.

  17. March 6, 2010 / 1:02 pm

    I have been trying to reproduce my mom’s fried fish for years without success. (She always gets the perfect amount of crispiness!!) I’ll give your recipe a try.
    .-= Elle (Bromography)´s last blog ..Food for Thought #161 =-.

  18. March 3, 2010 / 3:35 pm

    ohhh, fry-dry like this has the best balance of crispy crust and fish, and as you say perfect with rice and dhal. or to much just so.
    my mother always seasoned fish to fry with curry powder too! she seasons her breadfruit chips the same way 🙂
    thanks for the memories…i doh have no fry-dry but i could do rice and dhal tonight!

    • admin
      March 4, 2010 / 4:59 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Chennette. hope you enjoed the dhal and rice. .. would be great with some tomato choka as well.

  19. sandra
    March 3, 2010 / 9:05 am

    Hi Chris, You are doing a great job!Now I’m really want some fry dry, but it’s hard to get sardines oe herring on long island.I saw a fish called smelt, it looks just like sardines, so I’ll try that and let u know how it came out.I’ll make some bake to go with that..smelt and bake instead of shark and bake!!!If you know the secret to making bake like they do at Maracas share it with us please! Mine just never comes out like theirs. Thanks again for sharing your recipies.

    • admin
      March 4, 2010 / 5:02 pm

      Sandra, great to have you here. I did a fry bake post a while back, but I cheated (you’ll see what I mean). Give the smelts a chance, they’re not too far in taste and texture to the sardines or herrings we get in the Caribbean.

      happy cooking


      p.s. thanks for reminding me about that bake and shark in maracas.. now I have a craving 🙂

  20. March 3, 2010 / 5:00 am

    One of the best things to do is to fillet them + put them in a dish all in one layer. Then squeeze the juice of several lemons over the top + let stand in the refrigerator for a few hours. After that, cover with good evoo and a hefty pinch of crushed red pepper + let stand a few more hours. Remove from the refrigerator, spinkle with chopped parsley (and/or oregano and/or marjoram, if you like), allow it to come up to room temp and eat.
    .-= data center power´s last blog ..Green Technology Implementations and Green IT in Asia =-.

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