Whitebait is an old English term for little tiny fish, dusted in flour and fried crispy, and the Brits really do love it.
You can eat the whole fish but because whitebait is always smaller than your pinky finger, it's no biggie. Lots of cultures eat deep-fried whole little fish, and the best-quality fish are often blue anchovies found in Asian markets.
Count on between one-fourth and one-third of a pound per person, depending on their appetite. You need a dipping sauce for this; aioli, a garlicky sauce that goes well with fried fish, works best here.
- 1 pound tiny whole fish, such as blue anchovies
- 1 tablespoon salt (finely ground)
- 1 cup flour (all-purpose)
- 1 to 2 cups oil for frying
- 4 to 8 lemon wedges
- Pick through your fish to look for any that are not pristine. You are looking for ones where the bellies are torn open. This is from enzymes within the fish breaking it down. Toss these and use only those that look nice, smell a bit like cucumbers (not like nasty fish) and that have clear eyes.
- Mix the salt and flour well.
- Pour the oil into a cast-iron frying pan or other suitable pan and heat it to 350 F over medium heat.
- Dust the fish in the seasoned flour and then shake off the excess. Fry in batches, stirring them so they don't stick together, for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Drain on a fine-meshed rack or paper towels. If you are making a lot of them, heat the oven to warm and place the fish in the oven until you are ready to serve since it is important that you serve whitebait toasty hot.
How to Serve Whitebait
When all the fish are cooked, serve with a sauce such as an aioli with some lemon wedges and a cold beer. Whitebait is also tasty with any mayonnaise-based sauce.
As a laid-back finger food, whitebait is a great choice as an appetizer or part of the game-day party menu. In those cases, the whitebait, sauce, and beer are all you need.
As with most any deep-fried fish, French fries are a classic accompaniment if you want to make a meal out of these fish bites. This also pairs great with your favorite potato or pasta salads.