Any sensible homemaker will tell you to always have a list when you go out to do your shopping in order to save money, time and avoid unnecessary purchases. Well, I do go to the shops always armed with a list but sticking to it is totally a different matter. Going to the butchers, greengrocers and seafood markets are always a gamble and an adventure. My weekly menus usually go out the window when I see what's on offer. There's always something to tempt, interest, challenge anyone who enjoys cooking.
I was at the seafood shop on the weekend for some prawns when a tray of the cutest, tiniest fish (sorry guys, I guess Nemo beat you at the auditions) caught my eyes. Hmm, it seems almost sick to think of them cute and then have the intention to eat them :-(
Anyhow, I had to forgo the prawns this time in favour of whitebait, which I knew straightaway will be battered crisp and deep-fried. Whitebait refers to the young or fry of various fish species. In Europe (specifically the UK), it refers to young herring while in Australia and New Zealand, it predominantly refers to the young of some species of the Galaxias family. The fish would be on average, around 20-50mm in size and is eaten whole- head, guts and all.
There are strict regulations that apply to whitebait fishing in Australia and NZ to help conservation of native species so that alleviates my guilt a bit for feasting on these cute little creatures.
Whitebait dishes appear on many Australian restaurant menus but I've really only had them deep-fried and served with aioli. I wanted to try them with an Asian slant.
This recipe produced a plateful of fritters, enough for 4 people as a starter.
You will need:
300g whitebait, thoroughly washed and pat-dried
1 large eggplant, cut into 1 cm slices crossways
oil for deep frying
a few sprigs of Thai basil
for the batter:
1 1/4 c self-raising flour
1/4 c corn flour
1 1/2 c cold soda water
4 ice cubes
for the sauce:
6 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
1 red chili, sliced thinly
2Tbsp soy sauce
1Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 c water
1tsp cornflour dissolved in 2Tbsp water
Preheat oven to 200deg C. Place eggplants on a lined baking tray and slightly coat with oil spray. Bake eggplant in the oven for around 10mins or until tender then set aside.
To make the batter, mix the flours together in a bowl with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Put the soda water in another bowl with the ice cubes. Tip the flour mix into the soda water in one go. Very lighty mix (I did this with a chopstick) leaving some lumps of flour (I believe this gives extra crunch). Drop the whitebait into the bowl and again, only lightly mix. If the batter is too runny, add a bit more self-raising flour.
Get the oil up to heat for deep-frying. Take spoonfuls of the battered whitebait and drop in the oil. Fry until golden.
Meanwhile, make the sauce by mixing all ingredients in a small sauce pan. Slowly bring to the boil and stir until the sauce is slightly thick.
To arrange the dish, take a piece of baked eggplant and drizzle with sauce. Stack 2 or 3 fritters on top. Garnish with a few leaves of Thai basil and enjoy.
Just don't think of Nemo while you eat;-)