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How to Cook Sprats and Recipes

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.

Freshly cleaned sprats ready for cooking

Freshly cleaned sprats ready for cooking

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.

Sprats are small and delicate and care is required when cleaning them for cooking

Sprats are small and delicate and care is required when cleaning them for cooking

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

Sprats are deep fried in batter and served with a garlic and chive dip, bread and butter

Sprats are deep fried in batter and served with a garlic and chive dip, bread and butter

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 min

2 min

7 min

One serving

Ingredients

  • 5 cleaned sprats, heads removed (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons self-raising/rising flour
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying
  • 1 thick slice wheat, spelt and rye bread, or similar
  • Butter
  • 2 tablespoons soured cream
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped chives

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Arrange the drained sprats alongside the bread and dip.
  6. 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

Grilled or broiled sprats served on a bed of spicy tomato sauce on toast

Grilled or broiled sprats served on a bed of spicy tomato sauce on toast

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 15 min

Ready in: 20 min

Yields: Two servings

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. Pour the canned tomatoes into a saucepan and add the chopped chillies and coriander/cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. 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.
  3. Put your grill/broiler on to heat to maximum.
  4. 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!)
  5. 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.
  6. Spoon the tomato sauce on to the toast. Lift the sprats on top and garnish with the remaining green leaves.
  7. 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

Spicy shallow fried sprats with deep fried onion rings

Spicy shallow fried sprats with deep fried onion rings

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 5 min

Ready in: 10 min

Yields: One serving

Ingredients

  • 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
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 5 or 6 cleaned sprats
  • 2 tablespoons plain/all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • Black pepper

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. Bring an inch or so of vegetable oil up to a high heat in a deep frying pan.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Combine the plain flour, chilli powder and some salt and pepper in a clean bowl.
  6. Bring a little more oil up to a medium to high heat in a frying pan.
  7. 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.
  8. Drain both the onion rings and the sprats on kitchen paper before serving.

Thanks for Reading - Please Rate these Recipe Ideas Below

Comments

Brad Alsobrook from Memphis, TN USA on July 23, 2019:

Yet another fish I'll be on the look-out for.. Do most people eat the bones too?

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on October 02, 2016:

I'm afraid I don't know, kmw. Perhaps a Google search naming your local area and sprats may help? Hope you manage to find them or something similar. They really are delicious.

kmw on October 01, 2016:

Where do you buy sprats in the USA?

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on December 30, 2015:

Wow, Gordon! I would have to try them someday.

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on December 30, 2015:

They're probably the smallest fish I've ever eaten, Kristen, apart from whitebait. They are, however, none the less tasty for their size :)

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on December 30, 2015:

Thank you Chitrangada. I'm sure the spices will give them some wonderful extra falvours. I must give that idea a try.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on December 30, 2015:

Gordon, I never had sprats before. That's real small fish. Congrats on HOTD and hold off on the chilies for me, please.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on December 30, 2015:

Congratulations for the HOTD!

Well presented recipe with helpful pictures and step wise instructions. Sounds delicious and easy to cook.

We also eat this fish and cook it almost in the same way, but call it with a different name. We deep fry them after marinating with light amount of spices.

Thank you for sharing!

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on February 15, 2015:

I'm not sure if you will have access to them in South Africa, infoweekly, but hope you at least have something similar. They are both tasty and cheap :)

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on February 15, 2015:

Glad you're familiar with these tasty little morsels, Cardisa. Never thought of using them to make a soup before but it certainly sounds interesting. Thanks :)

Christine Valdevieso from The Philippine Islands on December 07, 2014:

Great recipes! Not to mention, you can also grill this and just sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Now, I am getting hungry.

infoweekly from South Africa on October 23, 2014:

Never heard of a Sprat before, but now I am interested in trying this fish

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on October 01, 2014:

I never thought anyone but Jamaicans knew what sprats were...I know that sounds selfish but it's true...lol. We remove the guts too but not the head. Our main way of preparing the sprats is to pan fry them really crispy so that the bones and heads are edible. We also use them to make what we call a "fish tea" by boiling and straining them, then using the liquid to make a light fish soup.

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on December 12, 2013:

Glad you like sprats and particularly that you enjoy the head FullOfLoveSites.. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

FullOfLoveSites from United States on December 12, 2013:

I love those small fishes such as sprats. I admit that the head is my most favorite part when the fish is deep fried. Thanks for sharing your recipes. The dish with the onion rings looks yummy

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on September 27, 2013:

Hi, suzzycue and thanks for your visit and comment. Yes, I have heard that they are sometimes called smelts and I'm sorry that you no longer have any ready access to them in your area. Hope that changes some day soon.

Susan Britton from Ontario, Canada on September 26, 2013:

We also call them smelts in Canada but there are no longer seen in my area of the great Lakes on the shores of lake Huron. I miss going smelt fishing. Great recipes!

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on August 28, 2013:

Thank you randomcreative. I know they are found pretty widely around the world but in the form of slightly different subspecies.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 27, 2013:

I had never heard of sprats before, but I'm intrigued now! Thanks for the great overview and recipes.

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on August 26, 2013:

Thank you, toptenluxury. I'm sorry your husband doesn't like them but hope you have the opportunity to try them soon...

I know that this particular type of sprats are not available in North America mbrownauthor but believe there are very similar species which can be cooked in exactly the same way :)

Funnily enough bac2basics, I used to think that as well :) I thought for years that sprats were just "big" whitebait. I've since discovered that no, they're not. Sprats are of the sardine family, while whitebait is of the herring family. They are fairly similar but I'll be absolutely honest with you in that while I'm happy to eat whitebait whole and ungutted, I would never do so again with sprats. (I've since seen what comes out of them...) Clean them first! :) They are, however, absolutely delicious cleaned and well worth the effort. Thanks for visiting :)

Anne from Spain on August 26, 2013:

Hi Gordon.

Would I be correct in thinking Sprats are also called whitebait ?

Your step by step instructions and your inventive recipes are great.

Thanks for sharing :)

mbrownauthor on August 26, 2013:

I had to stop by simply to see what sprats are. I never heard of them. Very interesting!

Adrian Cloute from Cedartown, GA on August 26, 2013:

Those are some good looking sprat recipes. Too bad my husband doesn't like them. I will have to make them when he is out of town.

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on August 25, 2013:

Hi, NMLady. No - they're a bit different. Smelts so far as I am aware are freshwater fish, while these are sea fish. When it comes to cooking them, however - as they are both oily fish - I don't see why the recipes wouldn't be largely interchangeable. Thanks for visiting and I hope that if you do give any of these ideas a go using smelts, you'll come back and let me know how they turned out :)

NMLady from New Mexico & Arizona on August 25, 2013:

Are these the same as smelts? We have them in the USA. We tend to fry them in a Greek style with garlic and then squirt lemon juice on them. They are yummy! (Smelts 'run' in Lake Michigan and that is the great time to harvest them)

Your recipes look great BTW.