Classic Fried Whitebait (Fried Tiny Fish)

Classic Fried Whitebait (Fried Tiny Fish), fried fish and lemon wedges on a plate

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
493 Calories
24g Fat
46g Carbs
28g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 493
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 24g 31%
Saturated Fat 5g 23%
Cholesterol 68mg 23%
Sodium 1066mg 46%
Total Carbohydrate 46g 17%
Dietary Fiber 6g 23%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 28g
Vitamin C 107mg 536%
Calcium 222mg 17%
Iron 6mg 35%
Potassium 791mg 17%
*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 tiny fish that are often dusted in flour and fried until crispy. It's a favorite British snack, and since whitebait is always smaller than your pinky finger, you can eat the whole fish. The immature fish are tender, and you don't have to clean them or avoid bones and fins like you do larger fish.

Count on between 1/4 and 1/3 of a pound per person, depending on their appetite. You will want a dipping sauce for this dish—aioli, a garlicky and creamy sauce that goes well with fried fish, works best here. Other mayonnaise-based sauces like tartar sauce are also good.

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 deep-fried fish, French fries are a classic accompaniment if you want to make a meal out of whitebait. They also pair great with your favorite potato or pasta salads.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound tiny whole fish such as blue anchovies, no bigger than 2 inches long

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 2 cups oil for frying, such as peanut, canola, or vegetable oil

  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Classic Fried Whitebait (Fried Tiny Fish) ingredients, tiny fish, flour, salt, oil, lemon

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  2. Pick through your fish to look for any that are not pristine. You are looking for ones where the bellies are torn open (caused by 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 have clear eyes.

    tiny fish in a white bowl

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  3. In a shallow bowl, mix the flour and salt.

    flour and salt mixture in a bowl

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

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

    cast-iron pan with oil

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  5. Toss the fish in the seasoned flour and then shake off the excess.

    tiny fish tossed in flour

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  6. Fry in batches, stirring them so they don't stick together, for 2 to 3 minutes per batch, or until golden brown and crispy.

    tiny fish frying in oil in a cast-iron pan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  7. 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.

    fried tiny fish on a wire rack and baking pan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  8. Serve hot with lemon wedges and enjoy.

Tips

  • The best-quality small fish are often blue anchovies, which are commonly found in Asian markets. You can find whitebait fresh in season and frozen year-round.
  • Frozen whitebait should be thawed overnight and patted dry before cooking.
  • Fried whitebait is best enjoyed fresh and hot. Refrigerate any leftovers and consume them as soon as possible, within a day or two.

What Kind of Fish Is Whitebait?

The name "whitebait" is used for the juveniles of a variety of fish species, and it varies throughout the world. Traditionally in the U.K., herring were used for whitebait, but over-harvesting significantly reduced the herring population; today, the more sustainable sprats are preferred. In Australia and New Zealand, five different species of the Galaxiidae family are whitebait, while Chinese fish farms often export "silver fish." Anchovies and sardines are commonly used elsewhere.