New Zealand whitebait is primarily the young or ‘fry’, of three species of the herring family: inanga (the most common), koaro and banded kokopu. Popular the world over, whitebait are sold with guts intact at little more than 5cm long. There are only three places in the world where whitebait is caught: Patagonia in South America, Tasmania and New Zealand, which has the greatest numbers. Although caught in rivers all round New Zealand, most are found on the West Coast where white-baiting is an important seasonal industry.
Most people love their fritters, but for me it seems such a shame to just surround them in batter when we could be celebrating every delicious bite. Make a big pile on a large board with a bowl of Aioli and try not to worry about the double dipping, every time I make this dish it’s always the hardened kiwi hunting type that positions themselves closest, eats the most and all the while sharing whitebait stories and favorite fritter recipes.

Deep-fried Moorish Whitebait

The usual way of cooking whitebait is as fritters, but in this recipe the fish are eaten whole, deep-fried and crisp enough to rustle as they’re served on the plate.
Serves 4

450g whitebait
Oil for deep-frying
4 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dry English mustard
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
lemon wedges to garnish

1. Pick over the whitebait, discarding any broken fish and dry with paper towel.
2. Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer until a crumb of bread sizzles in it.
3. Sift the flour with the salt, pepper and spices. Dredge over the whitebait, ensuring that they are all well coated.
4. Put a small handful of whitebait into the hot oil and cook for no more than 2 minutes.
5. Lift out and drain on absorbent paper, repeating the process until all the fish are cooked. They should be crisp and golden. Drain well and sprinkle with a little salt.
6. Pile onto a serving dish and serve with lemon wedges and aioli or tartare sauce.

The Moorish flavours in this dish almost demand an ice cold Gewürztraminer and luckily Lawsons Dry Hills make a cracker

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