Deep fried sprats with wild garlic aioli

Serves 4

When the sprats come in it always reminds me of my childhood, when I used to watch my late father Ernie on the beach in Dorset with all his mates out with their small rowing boats and seine nets, waiting for the water to start "boiling" as the sprats came in to shore. In fact, the sprats often just drove themselves right up on to the beach. It was an annual ritual for the locals to earn a bit of extra cash so they could have a good night out on the town.

Sprats come from the herring family and are the poor cousins of whitebait. They're about 6-7cm long and generally need simple cooking, such as coating in milk and flour and deep-frying. 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 good fishmonger should be able to order them for you in advance if he hasn't got any in stock.

600-800g sprats, prepared as above, depending on their size
A cup of milk
100g self-raising flour
Salt and cayenne pepper
Oil for deep frying

For the sauce

A handful of wild garlic leaves
tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
3-4tbsp of good quality mayonnaise

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a pan, add the wild garlic leaves and stir for about 20 seconds until they are wilted. Blend coarsely in a liquidiser (you may need to add a little water to get it blended), then mix with the mayonnaise.

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 about 3-4 minutes, or until golden and drain on kitchen paper. Serve with the garlic mayonnaise.

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