Fish of the month
One of my favourite seasonal seafood recipes comes from the slate grey winter seas of our Suffolk coast, and involves a fish that constitutes a highly nutritious, yet affordable, meal, rich in the polyunsaturate omega-3 and with all the accompanying health benefits associated with oily fish. Sprats, (Sprattus sprattus) are a shoaling pelagic species, traditionally caught by drift nets or mid-water trawls and for centuries have appeared in diets along with the more popular oily staples of herring, pilchards and mackerel. Personally, I find their flavour exquisite and when coupled with the simplicity of their preparation, and their inexpensive price tag, I cannot understand why their appeal has waned. The popularity of whitebait, (their notably favoured juvenile class), is no less flavoursome and a popular starter in restaurants around the UK. However, in the interests of sustainability, consuming the adults to my mind would be preferable and eminently more satisfying, knowing the fish has had a chance to reach maturity and spawning age.
1lb (450g) fresh sprats (or as many as you can manage)
Coarse ground black pepper
For the sauce
Recipes for this vary somewhat, but I prefer to combine the following in a small pan.
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Worcester sauce (or Yorkshire relish)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp paprika
Pinch of cayenne
1 tsp tobasco
1 tbsp runny honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Mix all of the above and stir over a low heat until nicely warmed through and do not forget to taste, adding in a little extra of anything to suit.
The key is to obtain the sprats, spankingly fresh, and only hours from the boat. The preparation should only involve making a ventral incision along the belly and removing the guts and taking the head off if desired. Wash the cavity with fresh water and repeat with as many sprats as you feel you can consume! Drain any excess water and dry with kitchen roll. Next mix up some sieved plain flour with a good grinding of black pepper and coat the sprats liberally, shaking off any excess.
To cook the sprats, melt 50g salted butter in a pan, until it bubbles and colours slightly. Respectfully add the sprats and fry, allowing about 2 minutes either side until the skin crisps and the coating becomes golden. Drain on kitchen roll if required and arrange on a plate before carefully spooning the warm devilled sauce atop them. The recipe works equally well if the sprats are plainly grilled and of course all can be eaten, as the fine bones cook down beautifully. Enjoy and savour them, accompanied perhaps by some just-baked sourdough toast and a lavish dollop of slowly melting butter. Simple, sustainable, satisfaction and at price to suit all budgets.