Gordon has been sea fishing and cooking since childhood. He loves coming up with tasty ways of cooking his fresh catch when he gets home.
Sprats come in a number of genetic forms but the ones featured on this page are European sprats. They are found around the seas and oceans off Western Europe, the UK and Ireland. Sprats are small, oily sea fish which swim in huge shoals. They are extremely nutritious and tasty but one factor which may put many people off eating sprats is the fact that they are frequently eaten whole, without even being gutted. That is of course an option, but although gutting this tiny fish is a little awkward and time consuming, the sprats featured on this page have all been cleaned in this way prior to being cooked.
How to Clean Sprats
In order to clean/gut/eviscerate these tiny fish, you will need above all a small, extremely sharp knife, ideally with a thin blade. You should also have to hand an empty bowl in which you can deposit the removed innards, as well as a bowl of clean, cold water in which to very carefully rinse the sprats after they have been cleaned. A plate upon which to lay the cleaned sprats is of course also necessary.
Hold the sprat in your weaker hand, belly up. Starting at the small opening two-thirds of the way down from the head in the direction of the tail, make a slit all the way up to just behind the head. You should then use the point of the knife to gently scrape out the stomach contents of the sprat into the empty bowl. Dip the cleaned fish in the cold water to clean it off and lay it on the plate.
General Tips for Cooking Sprats
Sprats are—due above all to their size—incredibly delicate. This means that they must not only be handled but cooked in an appropriate fashion if they are not to break up and essentially be wasted. Cooking them quickly and simply not only helps the sprats keep their physical form, it allows the delicious flavours to be enjoyed to the full.
There are three recipes below, one which sees the sprats deep fried, one which sees them shallow fried and one which sees them grilled/broiled. If you have never cooked sprats before and are nervous about handling such small fish, the deep fried option is the easiest one with which to start.
Deep Fried Sprats in Batter With Garlic and Chive Dip
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- 5 cleaned sprats, heads removed (optional)
- 2 tablespoons self-raising/rising flour
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
- 1 thick slice wheat, spelt and rye bread, or similar
- 2 tablespoons soured cream
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and grated
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped chives
- Spoon the flour into a flat-bottomed bowl and season with salt. Slowly begin adding cold water as you whisk with a fork until you have a thick, creamy batter. Bring about an inch of vegetable oil up to a high heat in a deep frying pan.
- The heads can be left on the sprats if you wish. Either way, hold the sprats one at a time by the tail and dip them in the batter before carefully lowering them into the hot oil.
- Fry the sprats for about two minutes, turning occasionally with a deep frying spider or metal slotted spoon. Lift to a plate of kitchen paper to drain.
- Stir the garlic into the soured cream and spoon into a small serving ramekin. Scatter with the chopped chives. Plate along with the buttered bread.
- Arrange the drained sprats alongside the bread and dip.
- To eat, hold the sprats by the tail to dip them in the soured cream. The end tail portion can if you wish be discarded, though it is entirely edible.
Grilled Sprats on Toast With Spicy Tomato Sauce
Read More From Delishably
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 15 min
Ready in: 20 min
Yields: Two servings
- 8 ounce can chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
- 1 small red birds' eye chilli, finely chopped
- 1 small green birds' eye chilli, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaf/cilantro, plus extra to garnish
- 6 cleaned sprats
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 slices of bread, toasted
- Pour the canned tomatoes into a saucepan and add the chopped chillies and coriander/cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
- Put the saucepan on to a medium heat until the liquid just starts to simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer very gently, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, for about ten minutes.
- Put your grill/broiler on to heat to maximum.
- Lay a sheet of tinfoil on a grilling tray and brush lightly with oil. (The foil is non-essential—but it makes washing up much easier!)
- Lay the sprats on their sides on the foil and gently brush with more oil. Season with salt and pepper and grill for about a minute each side until the skin is starting to bubble up and darken.
- Spoon the tomato sauce on to the toast. Lift the sprats on top and garnish with the remaining green leaves.
- The whole of the sprats—including the heads and tails—are entirely edible but it is again down to personal preference.
Spicy Pan Fried Sprats With Onion Rings
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 5 min
Ready in: 10 min
Yields: One serving
- 2 moderately thick slices from a large white onion, separated into rings (be sure to slice the onion the right way!)
- 2 tablespoons self-raising/rising flour
- Vegetable oil
- 5 or 6 cleaned sprats
- 2 tablespoons plain/all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
- Black pepper
- Put the self-raising flour into a deep flat-bottomed bowl and season with salt. Whisk in some cold water to make a batter the consistency of double (heavy) cream.
- Bring an inch or so of vegetable oil up to a high heat in a deep frying pan.
- You can if you wish toss the onion rings in plain flour before you dip them in the batter. It makes for a thicker batter coating but is not essential.
- Dip the onion rings in the batter, let the excess drip off for a second or two and lay in the hot oil. They will take about five minutes to cook and you should turn them halfway through cooking.
- Combine the plain flour, chilli powder and some salt and pepper in a clean bowl.
- Bring a little more oil up to a medium to high heat in a frying pan.
- Pat the sprats in the seasoned flour and fry on a high heat for a minute each side. Do be very careful turning them and the easiest way to do so is with a wide bladed blunt knife or a pallet knife.
- Drain both the onion rings and the sprats on kitchen paper before serving.