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How to Cook Sprats and Recipes

Updated on March 11, 2016
Gordon Hamilton profile image

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.

How to Clean Sprats

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

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 in to the empty bowl. Dip the cleaned fish in the cold water to clean it off and lay it on the plate.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cleaning spratsCleaned sprats
Cleaning sprats
Cleaning sprats
Cleaned sprats
Cleaned sprats
Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 100g
Calories 131
Calories from Fat45
% Daily Value *
Fat 5 g8%
Saturated fat 1 g5%
Unsaturated fat 4 g
Protein 20 g40%
Cholesterol 60 mg20%
Sodium 104 mg4%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

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 time: 5 min
  • Cook time: 2 min
  • Ready in: 7 min
  • Yields: 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

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Heads are removed from gutted spratsPreparing a simple flour and water batterDeep frying battered spratsWheat, spelt and rye breadBread and butter with garlic and chive dipDeep fried battered sprats are drained on kitchen paper
Heads are removed from gutted sprats
Heads are removed from gutted sprats
Preparing a simple flour and water batter
Preparing a simple flour and water batter
Deep frying battered sprats
Deep frying battered sprats
Wheat, spelt and rye bread
Wheat, spelt and rye bread
Bread and butter with garlic and chive dip
Bread and butter with garlic and chive dip
Deep fried battered sprats are drained on kitchen paper
Deep fried battered sprats are drained on kitchen paper
  1. Spoon the flour in to 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 in to 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 in to the soured cream and spoon in to 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

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Chilli peppers and coriander leaf/cilantroChopped chillies and corianderPreparing spicy tomato sauceSprats ready to be grilled or broiledSpicy tomato sauce is spooned on to toastGrilled sprats are laid on spicy tomato sauce
Chilli peppers and coriander leaf/cilantro
Chilli peppers and coriander leaf/cilantro
Chopped chillies and coriander
Chopped chillies and coriander
Preparing spicy tomato sauce
Preparing spicy tomato sauce
Sprats ready to be grilled or broiled
Sprats ready to be grilled or broiled
Spicy tomato sauce is spooned on to toast
Spicy tomato sauce is spooned on to toast
Grilled sprats are laid on spicy tomato sauce
Grilled sprats are laid on spicy tomato sauce
  1. Pour the canned tomatoes in to 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 in to 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

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Onion rings for frittersBatter for onion ringsDeep frying onion ringsSeasoned flourPatting sprats in seasoned flourShallow frying spratsDraining onion ringsDraining spratsOnion rings are plated
Onion rings for fritters
Onion rings for fritters
Batter for onion rings
Batter for onion rings
Deep frying onion rings
Deep frying onion rings
Seasoned flour
Seasoned flour
Patting sprats in seasoned flour
Patting sprats in seasoned flour
Shallow frying sprats
Shallow frying sprats
Draining onion rings
Draining onion rings
Draining sprats
Draining sprats
Onion rings are plated
Onion rings are plated
  1. Put the self-raising flour in to 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

4.1 stars from 30 ratings of these simple, tasty sprat recipes

Comments

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    • Gordon Hamilton profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 5 months ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      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.

    • profile image

      kmw 5 months ago

      Where do you buy sprats in the USA?

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 14 months ago from Northeast Ohio

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

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 14 months ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      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 profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 14 months ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

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

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 14 months ago from Northeast Ohio

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

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 14 months ago from New Delhi, India

      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 profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 2 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      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 profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 2 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      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 :)

    • ChristineV profile image

      Christine Valdevieso 2 years ago from The Philippine Islands

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

    • infoweekly profile image

      infoweekly 2 years ago from South Africa

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

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 2 years ago from Jamaica

      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 profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

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

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 3 years ago from United States

      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 profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      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.

    • suzzycue profile image

      Susan Britton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      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 profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

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

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      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 :)

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 3 years ago from Spain

      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 :)

    • profile image

      mbrownauthor 3 years ago

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

    • toptenluxury profile image

      Adrian Cloute 3 years ago from Cedartown, GA

      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 profile image
      Author

      Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      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 profile image

      NMLady 3 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      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.

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