I remember how, when I was a kid, at this time of year my father and his mates would wait on the beach in West Bay in Dorset with small rowing boats and Seine nets. They were expecting the huge shoals of sprats that used to come in so close to the shore they would occasionally wash themselves up on the beach. It seemed like a cult thing to do among locals to get a few beer vouchers for a good night out.
Sprats are from the herring family and are the poor cousins of whitebait. They're about 6-7cm and generally need simple cooking, coated in milk and flour and deep fried. You can leave the heads on or, if they're bigger, cut them off, run your finger down their stomachs and open them into butterfly shapes. A fishmonger should be able to order them. Serve with tartare sauce, mayonnaise mixed with crushed garlic and parsley, or just lemon.
600-800g sprats, prepared as above
A cup of milk
Salt and cayenne pepper
Oil for deep frying
Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep fat fryer. Season the flour well with the salt and cayenne pepper then coat the sprats well in the flour, shaking off any excess. Put them briefly in the milk then back through the flour. Deep fry them in 2 or 3 batches for 3-4 minutes, or until golden and drain on kitchen paper.Reuse content