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Fish of the month recipe for Sprat, whitebait

Devilled Sprats

Devilled Sprats

One of my favourite seasonal seafood recipes comes from the slate grey winter seas of our Suffolk coast, and involves a fish that constitutes a highly nutritious, yet affordable, meal, rich in the polyunsaturate omega-3 and with all the accompanying health benefits associated with oily fish. Sprats, (Sprattus sprattus) are a shoaling pelagic species, traditionally caught by drift nets or mid-water trawls and for centuries have appeared in diets along with the more popular oily staples of herring, pilchards and mackerel. Personally, I find their flavour exquisite and when coupled with the simplicity of their preparation, and their inexpensive price tag, I cannot understand why their appeal has waned. The popularity of whitebait, (their notably favoured juvenile class), is no less flavoursome and a popular entrée in restaurants around the UK. However, in the interests of sustainability, consuming the adults to my mind would be preferable and eminently more satisfying, knowing the fish has had a chance to reach maturity and spawning age.

Ingredients

1lb (450g) fresh sprats (or as many as you can manage)
Plain flour
Coarse ground black pepper
For the sauce
Recipes for this vary somewhat, but I prefer to combine the following in a small pan.
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Worcester sauce (or Yorkshire relish)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp paprika
Pinch of cayenne
1 tsp tobasco
1 tbsp runny honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Mix all of the above and stir over a low heat until nicely warmed through and don't forget to taste, adding in a little extra of anything to suit.

Serves 2

Preparation

The key is to obtain the sprats, spankingly fresh, and only hours from the boat. The preparation should only involve making a ventral incision along the belly and removing the guts and taking the head off if desired. Wash the cavity with fresh water and repeat with as many sprats as you feel you can consume! Drain any excess water and dry with kitchen roll.

Next mix up some sieved plain flour with a good grinding of black pepper and coat the sprats liberally, shaking off any excess.

Cooking

To cook the sprats, melt 50g salted butter in a pan, until it bubbles and colours slightly. Respectfully add the sprats and fry, allowing about 2 minutes either side until the skin crisps and the coating becomes golden. Drain on kitchen roll if required and arrange on a plate before carefully spooning the warm devilled sauce atop them. The recipe works equally well if the sprats are plainly grilled and of course all can be eaten, as the fine bones cook down beautifully.

Enjoy and savour them, accompanied perhaps by some just-baked sourdough toast and a lavish dollop of slowly melting butter.

Simple, sustainable, satisfaction and at price to suit all budgets.

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Mike Warner

Mike Warner

I'm a freelance food writer, specialising in all aspects of sustainable and responsibly-caught UK seafood and the fisheries that ensure its supply. I'm fiercely passionate about the communities that the fishing industry supports and its impact on their local economy.

I write articles, features and recipes for my blog: eastcoastavocet.com and I'm a regular contributor to fishonfriday.org, The Skipper magazine and various other industry and consumer-facing publications.

I ardently believe, that a huge disconnect still exists between lovers of seafood and the fishing industry. I strive to bridge that gap through creatively writing about how seafood is produced, but moreover how it can be enjoyed responsibly and healthily through education and the demonstration of its diversity. I do this by engaging with those who fish, across all sectors, learning from them and telling their stories, in a sympathetic and enthusiastic way, that not only lovers of fish and shellfish will enjoy, but that will also inspire those who are perhaps more reticent, to share the love of what is our last true wild, organic, protein source.

My connection with seafood

I grew up in coastal Suffolk and took great delight in exploring the life and environment of our local shore and shallow seas. My family were ardent seafood fans and we always ate local fish and shellfish seasonally. I crewed, in my holidays and at weekends, for a local fishermen friend of my father, longlining for cod and skate in the winter months and potting for lobster and crab from May to September. I also fished my own pots, from my dinghy and learned the associated skills of net making, pot building and inshore seamanship and boat maintenance. 

Why sustainability is important to me

Sustainability is an oft used word. Yes, it does reflect the way in which fisheries are managed and how populations of fish and shellfish are commercially measured. However, it is also a benchmark for the socio-economic health, welfare and viability of the coastal communities that have been founded by and exist because of the fishing industry. I passionately believe that the modern integration of this industry into the local infrastructure of both urban and rural communities, reaches far wider than just than the food sector, and supports an array of businesses and trades that fuel their local economy.  True sustainability should exist across the whole supply chain.

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