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.
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.
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.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.