Deep-fried whitebait and prawns

Serves 4
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Whitebait is the smallfry of herring and sprats which are usually sold frozen, or defrosted. A couple of times as a kid working in a pub kitchen I saw them fresh, landed by local fishermen. But to be perfectly honest we've come to live with frozen whitebait and they still make a perfect comforting starter and f snack. Whitebait used to be netted extensively in the Thames and whitebait feasts in Greenwich, at the Trafalgar Tavern and the Old Ship, were popular events during their September season. The tradition of celebrating whitebait extended into Essex, and in 1934 the Southend Chamber of Commerce revived the Whitebait Festival. A short service, known as the Blessing of the Catch, will be followed by an event giving thanks for the fruits of the sea on 4 October at Westcliffe-on-Sea Cliffs Pavilion. See you there.

I've added some tiny prawns caught in Lyme Bay, Dorset, available for a couple of months around now. I love cooking them like this as you can eat the whole crunchy thing. Darren at Shellseekers in London's Borough Market sells them. The smallest prawns you can find with their shells on, or crevettes gris (the brown shrimps used for potting) will also do.

200g whitebait
200g small prawns with the shells on
100ml milk
100g flour
Salt and a good pinch of cayenne pepper
Oil for deep frying
Lemon wedges for serving

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Mix the flour well with a pinch of salt and the cayenne pepper. Flour the whitebait and prawns, shake off any excess in your hands and dip briefly in the milk then back into the flour. Ensure they are all well coated and shake off the excess flour again. Fry in 2 or 3 batches, depending on how many you're cooking, for 3-4 minutes until crisp then drain on to kitchen paper. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

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