Deep-Fried Whitebait

Whitebait, while usually baby herrings or sprats, can be the fry of any fish, including sand eels, smelts and small gudgeon. A traditional accompaniment is deep-fried curly parsley, but lots of whole flat-leaved parsley leaves scattered over is a fresher alternative and a pleasantly astringent taste to balance the richness of the fish.


  • 1 kg/ lb whitebait
  • 115 g/ 4 oz flour
  • alt and pepper
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • a little cayenne pepper
  • whole flat-leaved parsley leaves, to garnish
  • lemon quarters to serve


Preheat the oven to 130°C/275°F/ gas 1 and the oil for deep-frying to 190°C/375°F.

Season the flour well and put it in a plastic bag. Add the fish, a handful at a time, and shake to coat. Transfer to a sieve and toss gently to remove excess flour (returning this to the plastic bag as you go).

Fry the whitebait in batches, which will take about 2 minutes each time. Lift them out with a wire scoop and put them on a pile of heaped kitchen towels to drain, keeping them warm in the oven with the door ajar.

To Serve

Shake a little cayenne pepper over the whitebait, scatter them with lots of whole flat-leaved parsley and add a lemon quarter for each person.