In the good old days, when herrings were cheap and humble, their smaller cousins sprats were even humbler and it’s only now that they’re coming into their own again – which is a good thing, because they are delicious.
This recipe first appeared in Delia's Frugal Food.
Seasoned plain flour
Groundnut oil for frying
2 pinches cayenne pepper
For the mustard sauce:
½ small onion, peeled and chopped
10g plain flour
2 teaspoons mustard powder
275ml semi-skimmed milk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
A generous pinch of sugar
Begin by making the mustard sauce. In a saucepan melt the butter and soften the chopped onion in it for about 10 minutes.
Then stir in the flour and let it cook very gently for a couple of minutes before mixing in the mustard powder. Next add the milk bit by bit, stirring constantly.
When all the milk is in, bring the sauce to the boil and let it simmer very gently for about 3 minutes. Then add seasoning, lemon juice and sugar to taste.
Now keep the sauce warm while you gut and cook the sprats. Make a small incision behind a gill of each fish and gently squeeze the belly up towards the head to gut the fish, at the same time trying to leave the head intact.
Then rinse the fish well and dry them thoroughly on some kitchen paper before tossing in seasoned flour.
Next heat a deep pan of oil to 180˚C/350˚F, or if you don’t have a thermometer, until a small cube of bread dropped in it turns golden and crisp in 1 minute.
Then fry the sprats in the oil for about 3 minutes. You will probably need to fry them in at least 2 batches.
Then drain on crumpled kitchen paper, keeping them hot, and serve as soon as possible sprinkled with a trace of cayenne and the mustard sauce poured over.