In the seventeenth century the best whitebait in the world were caught at Greenwich in July and August. Special whitebait dinners were given in Greenwich taverns and parties of Londoners would go by water or by road to spend the day by the Thames where it widened to the estuary. They watched the ships, strolled along the river bank and in the park and ate whitebait, often preceded by Water Souchet, for which a recipe is also given.
Have ready a deep-fryer half-filled with clean frying oil, which must reach at least
Lay a large double piece of kitchen paper on a flat dish. Spread a clean tea towel on your working surface. Shake the seasoned flour all over the middle of the cloth and pour the whitebait on to it. Gather up the corners of the cloth and gently shake the little fish about until they are dry and coated with flour. Do not hold too tightly or shake too violently as the fish must not be bruised or broken.
Turn the whitebait into the frying basket and plunge it into hot oil for 1 minute. They should just have time to crisp but not brown. After 30 seconds, plunge them in again for a further 1 minute, this time to brown as well as crisp.
Turn the whitebait out on to the kitchen paper to drain for only a second, then pull the paper out from under them and serve immediately with the buttered brown bread and lemon quarters.
©1980 The Estate of Elizabeth Ayrton