Ask Peter: Whitebait and tuatuas (+ whitebait fritter recipe)
In restaurants I have enjoyed crispy individually-fried whitebait. Can you tell me how I cook it this way. Also, when making an egg batter for whitebait, do you add flour or not? Planning ahead for the summer, can you give us some ideas of what to do with the tuatua harvests we’re hoping for? Thanks, Loulou.
Ah… New Zealand whitebait truly are the most delicious fishy thing in the world, but they’re also very regional, so it’s great to make the most of them when in season. From memory, you only find them in New Zealand, Patagonia and some parts of Tasmania. In the UK, where I live, whitebait are not what NZ’ers would recognize, there they are in fact a variety of juvenile fish of various species, looking more like baby fish rather than baby eels (which also they’re not), and you would never think to eat their heads – they’re just too large and bony.
Whenever I’m in NZ during whitebait season I eat them by the truckload, mostly in fritters and I always have done. My partner always brings up a few kg to London every Christmas (approved by UK border control) wrapped up in his ski gear and we travel around our mates in the capital making whitebait fritters wherever we visit – which makes us a very popular seasonal attraction.
The best-ever whitebait fritter recipe I have come to rely on was given to me by my good friend Felicity, also known as Flic. It’s also flourless.
Best-ever whitebait fritter
- Mix 250g whitebait with 2 egg yolks and a little salt and pepper.
- Whisk 3 egg whites until almost firm, but not dry, and fold into the whitebait.
- Heat up a pan, adding some butter and olive oil, and dollop spoonfuls of the mixture into the sizzling fat.
- Fry until golden on both sides then eat on hot buttered toast, or simply just eat with your fingers with lemon juice squeezed over them.
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Recently at the Skycity Dining For A Difference fundraising dinner, raising cash to fight blood cancers, Michael Shatura from The Grove served the sort of whitebait I assume you’re talking about although I’m not exactly sure what he did. He served them as individual deep-fried whitebait, as a garnish on one of his courses at the dinner and they looked fabulous, rather than as a fritter which is far more common here. This way of cooking fish is something you’ll find around the Mediterranean and north Africa and yet strangely it’s not a way a lot of NZ’ers cook fish.
- Heat vegetable oil to 180-185C.
- In a large bowl, toss the whitebait (allow around 300g for 4 people as a starter) with 2 tablespoons cornflour and 3 heaped tablespoons flour, a little salt and very little pepper, all sifted together.
- Leave it to settle for 30 seconds (which also allows the flour to coat the fish evenly) then shake excess flour off and place on a platter. It can be really helpful to shake off the excess flour in a coarse sieve.
- Once the excess flour has been dispensed with, drop handfuls into the hot oil and cook for no more than 20 seconds. It’s important that you don’t overcrowd the pan as the oil temperature will drop and the whitebait will become soggy and greasy.
- Drain on kitchen paper and lightly salt and serve with a lemon wedge.
As for tuatua they are a completely different beast, or fish.
I like to steam them open just so you can get the meat out of the shell, then mix with some grated cooked kumara and egg, sliced spring onions and chopped green chilli, and shape into patties that I fry in butter and olive oil.
They’re also really tasty taken out of the shell and warmed through a simmering sauce of cream, fish sauce (for seasoning), grated ginger and garlic (not too much of the latter) and tossed with lots of snipped chives, salmon caviar and linguine.
But to be honest, they’re delicious simply steamed with some chopped tomatoes and white wine and eaten straight from the shell.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.
A selection of whitebait recipes to try
Give these tuatua recipes a go the next time you find yourself with some fresh-from-the-ocean tuatua