Sprats. One of those pleasingly blunt, borderline expletive words. It’s up there with “sloes”, “Yarg”, “clod”, “Gurnard” and “sticking”, when it comes to foods that are as much of a delight to say as they are to eat. I clocked these unfashionable and underrated fun-sized fishes on the wet counter of my local supermarket the other day. There have been some pretty impressive offerings of late, including samphire, squid and cockles amongst the usual dyed haddock and mackerel, the sort of stuff you would have had to make a special trip to a proper fishmongers for a couple of years ago.
I bagged enough for two for the princely sum of £1.10 and decided upon a Japanese slant. Tempura can seem a bit intimidating, but like all Japanese cookery, it’s all about getting the little details right. The water should be ice cold, the batter shouldn’t be over-mixed (a few lumps are a good thing) and the oil should be hot enough so that the battered fish sinks down for a second or two before floating to the top where it blooms majestically into puffy crags. We wolfed these down hot from the kitchen paper with a simple brown sushi rice, avocado, spring onion, carrot and lettuce salad and some steamed green beans sprinkled with a toasted sesame and miso dressing.
For the sprats
About 15 sprats, washed thoroughly
110g (4oz) plain flour
75ml (3fl oz) sparkling mineral water, kept in the fridge, and then when you’re ready to cook in the freezer to ensure it’s as icy as possible.
Oil for deep frying
For the sushi rice salad
300g sushi rice
1 piece seaweed
4 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 large carrot, diced
1 spring onion, finely chopped
Some shredded lettuce
1 avocado cubed
Toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds
For the sesame miso beans
Green beans, topped and tailed
1 tbsp miso paste
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp sugar
To make the rice salad
- Weigh out the rice and rinse well in a sieve. Leave for about 30 minutes for the rice to absorb some of the water droplets that cling.
- Tip into a saucepan and add the water. Add the seaweed, cover and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
- Let it boil for about 5 minutes, before turning the heat off and leaving it to steam with the lid on for 10-15 minutes. The rice should be perfectly cooked through.
- Mix the rice vinegar, salt and sugar, and once the rice has cooled down a little, add this and combine well.
- Pour into a bowl and mix with the lettuce, carrot, avocado and toasted seeds.
To make the beans
- Top and tail the beans and blanch in boiling water for a couple of minutes, so they’re cooked through but remain crisp and vibrant.
- Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until golden and crush in a pestle and mortar
- Mix with the miso paste and sugar before folding into the warm beans.
To make the tempura sprats
- Put the water in the freezer. Heat the oil in a pan/fryer to about 190 degrees.
- Once the oil is almost hot enough, beat the egg in a bowl, before adding the iced water. Lazily stir in the flour, being careful not to over-mix. Lumps are your friend.
- Rake the fish through the batter and test a piece. If it sinks for a couple of seconds before bobbing up to the surface, it’s hot enough.
- Fry in small batches for about 4-5 minutes and drain well on kitchen paper.
- Serve with a dipping sauce of dashi, mirin, sugar and soy, the rice salad and the beans.