Classic Fried Whitebait (Fried Tiny Fish) With Aioli

Deep-fried whitebait
Gareth Morgans/StockFood Creative/Getty Images
  • Total: 15 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 10 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
265 Calories
9g Fat
21g Carbs
26g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 servings
Amount per serving
Calories 265
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 9g 11%
Saturated Fat 2g 11%
Cholesterol 68mg 23%
Sodium 2216mg 96%
Total Carbohydrate 21g 8%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Protein 26g
Calcium 230mg 18%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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 (just a couple of inches), it's no biggie. You don't have to clean them and they will be consumed with the fins, head, and bones intact. They are tender due to their immaturity.

Lots of cultures eat deep-fried whole little fish, and the best-quality fish are often blue anchovies found in Asian markets. You can find whitebait fresh in season and frozen year-round.

Count on between one-quarter 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

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. 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.

  3. Mix the salt and flour well.

  4. Pour the oil into a cast-iron frying pan or other suitable pan and heat it to 350 F over medium heat.

  5. 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 per batch.

  6. Drain the fried tiny fish 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.

  7. Serve and enjoy!

How to Serve Whitebait

When all the fish are cooked, serve them with a sauce such as an aioli with some lemon wedges and a cold beer. Whitebait is also tasty with any mayonnaise-based sauce. You might mix some dill with mayonnaise to serve or use tartar 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.

Refrigerate any leftovers and consume them as soon as possible, within a day or two.