Where do you stand on the great whitebait debate? Have you ever tried it? Do you like it or hate it?
Whitebait are very small fish that you eat whole, head, tail, guts and all. They’re usually deep fried and served with lemon and are very popular in the U.K. (as well as New Zealand, Greece, etc.) Not so big in America.
Personally, I’ve never tried them and doubt that I ever will. I don’t know if it’s a specific American sensibility of mine, but I can’t eat fish if the head is still attached. It’s a problem, particularly since Europeans don’t seem to have this sensitivity. I’ll never forget the time I ordered sole meunière when we visited a coastal town in Normandy, France, and they brought it to me whole. It was the sort of dish that would have automatically come as a filet, had we been in the U.S. and then I was too embarrassed to ask them to remove the head.
Anyway, I digress. Waitbait… care to try it? This recipe comes courtesy of Nigella Lawson.
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 18 ounces whitebait
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bunch fresh curly parsley
- Maldon or other sea salt
- Lemon wedges, for plating
Heat the oil for frying in a deep-fat fryer to about 375 degrees F.
Put the whitebait and the seasoned flour into a plastic bag, and toss everything around to coat the fish.
Shake the excess flour by turning out the whole bag into a metal sieve, and then plunge the little fishes into the oil. Cook for about 3 minutes or until they look crispy and tempting – though I can see that for a squeamish generation, the idea of eating baby fish, whole, might not tempt. How wrong they are, if that’s the case.
Turn them out onto paper towels, and while the fish are losing any excess oil (we want desirable crunch) throw in a small handful of parsley leaves to deep-fry; watch out, it will spit. (A splatter guard is useful. Not charming, but useful.) When they have turned a very dark green, drain and serve with the whitebait, well sprinkled with sea salt and surrounded with lemon wedges.