Little fried fish

It’s whitebait season again, but we’ve yet to hear any reports from the Coast as to how its going. This isn’t unusual – whitebaiters are notoriously secretive, especially those who sell their catch without the knowledge of Mr IRD. Last year the Boy Wonder experimented with frying the tiny fish in a pan, Spanish-style, rather than binding them in traditional egg fritters. It was a great success, if labour-intensive. But last week he stumbled on an even better way – a sort of oven-fried version, made with a recent newspaper-wrapped delivery from Westport. The other thing that’s changed from last year is that a pound of whitebait (they only come in Imperial measures) used to be enough for two of us – now we have to share it with our smallest dining companion. That’s not a bad thing.

West Coast Whitebait Oven-Fried

Oven-fried whitebait
Excuse the Coaster-style description, but there’s no point giving this a fancier name (except ‘bloody good oven-fried whitebait’ perhaps). All you need with this is a crunchy green salad and a bit of baguette. Oh, and lots of lemon halves.

1 lb (about 500g) whitebait
salt and pepper
olive oil – about 1/2 cup

Defrost the whitebait and rinse under the tap to get rid of any grit. Drain well.
Preheat the oven to 200C and pour about 1/2 cup of olive oil in a roasting dish. (You may need more – the BW is a bit vague on exact measurements). Heat the oil in the oven for about five minutes. While it’s heating up, dredge the whitebait at a time in seasoned flour (shake off the excess in a coarse sieve.) Carefully tip into the hot oil and return the roasting dish to the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the little fish are golden brown and crunchy. Serves two greedy adults and one voracious toddler for dinner – so at least four adults for lunch.

Do you have a favourite way to cook – or eat – whitebait?



  1. September 5, 2011 / 7:24 pm

    I've never tried whitebait, they do look so nice and crunchy! And that photo of North beach is making me feel all homesick and craving a proper sandy beach again!

  2. September 5, 2011 / 11:31 pm

    I'd be so down for this…do they stay crispy for long though?

  3. September 5, 2011 / 11:37 pm

    I love whitebait:) I mostly nake it with eggs:)Delicious;)

  4. September 5, 2011 / 11:55 pm

    Oh man alive I haven't had whitebait for years. I am literally packing as I type… Looking for passport… Bought tickets…. Tell BW I'm on my way. … Keep the oven warm!

  5. September 6, 2011 / 12:03 am

    @TwoSpoons – yes, they are very crispy – it's almost like they're deep-fried, but without the danger factor.
    @BelleauKitchen – come on over!

  6. September 6, 2011 / 10:33 am

    Oh wow – I haven't had whitebait in years and years!
    I am definitely up for giving this a go now I know it can be done in the oven.

  7. September 7, 2011 / 10:55 am

    Yum! Any whitebait is good whitebait! I usually end up cooking it in puffs or fritters because everyone seems to want the old favourites! But this looks like a nice crunchy alternative 🙂

  8. September 8, 2011 / 5:40 pm

    Whitebait! I've never heard of this type of fish … and we, New Englanders love our fish and shellfish! I'll have to do some research … probably can't get it here in the States, but if I were ever to get to NZ or Australia, perhaps! I must say, though, that if it's crunchy and fried, I'm your girl!

  9. May 12, 2014 / 11:57 pm

    Made this today – it was awesome. Had been looking for an alternative to frying and this was perfect

  10. Lttp
    October 30, 2018 / 4:48 pm

    1 lb is 454g

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