Tempura Sprats

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.

Serves 2

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

1 egg

For the sushi rice salad

300g sushi rice

1 piece seaweed

330ml water

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.


  1. This sounds delicious.,, I am always a bit put off deep frying things in my kitchen as I never know what to do with all the oil afterwards but will definitely be giving this a go!

    • gastrogeek

      Thanks Elly! I know exactly what you mean…prolly not the best thing to do, but I usually tip mine down the sink with plenty of hot water. Would love to hear how you get on 🙂

  2. These look wonderful! Never done tempura before – is it tricky to get right?

    @the_orange_tree @jo_ellery

  3. Looks lovely. I’ve always been a bit put off by sprats as my parents used to fry them for sunday morning breakfast which wasnt a pleasant smell to wake up to, though i reckon this would turn me. what dipping sauce did you use?

    • gastrogeek

      Thanks, and they can be a bit overbearing can’t they? I found them pretty palatable this way though. I made a sauce of dashi, mirin, sugar and soy but found they went just as well with a fat blob of bottled sweet chiili sauce.

  4. This looks great, Rejina. And I love that you can get these in your local supermarket!

    • gastrogeek

      Cheers – it’s about time isn’t it? Hopefully one day they’ll catch on to other delights like whitebait and smoked eels as well…

  5. Sublime- both the dish and the description of tempura creating ‘puffy crags’. Can’t wait to try it- nb, have been doing a bit of frying lately (working on getting my apple fritters just right)- I usually wait for the oil to cool, then pour it into an old soda water bottle, and then throw that bottle in the rubbish. That way there’s less oil going into the water….

    • gastrogeek

      Why thanks! – those apple fritters sound pretty delish… and that’s a brilliant tip re. the oil, will definitely do that next time (“hangs head in shame”)

  6. Sprats! Love them little fishies, and whitebait too. And £1.10, what a bargain. The salad and beans are really useful to have up the sleeve too, they sound like they’ll go with all sorts of things…

    • gastrogeek

      I know, I couldn’t believe how cheap they were! I quite like packing the salad and beans in tupperware for those days when I know I’m going to be out and about a lot – anything to curb the appalling junk food cravings I’ve been having…

  7. This looks and sounds delicious – too long ago tempura made an appearance in my life now – must’ve been amazing with the sushi rice salad!

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