Sunday, 8 December 2013

Deep-Fried Sprats with Red Chinese Vinegar (油炸鯡魚點醋)

The reduced fresh produce appears on the shelves at around a quarter to 8 in the evening at our local Sainsbury's, and when it's a supermarket day, I can usually be found lurking around the aisles at this time. Last night I came home with a packet of sprats for 50p, a bream for £2.60 and a couple of papaya for 39p each. My mum and dad would be proud of me, but I'm not a patch on my best friend, Yin's mum, whom I think managed Christmas dinner for under a fiver last year!

Although I prefer to get my fish from the fishmonger, the choice at the supermarket, especially when it's reduced, is fine. The bream went straight into the freezer (along with last week's bargain dover sole, which doesn't actually freeze that well) for another day, and the papaya will be turned into soup with pork ribs. The sprats pretty much need to be eaten the next day, and although the fishmonger said I didn't need to gut them, I personally prefer to, I think it makes the taste much cleaner.

The eldest loves to dip her sprats into red Chinese vinegar, and was last seen rather worryingly drinking it straight from the bowl. The middle child preferred tomato ketchup, and the toddler still prefers to run around and create merry hell, rather than eat anything. The fish is fried until crisp and crunchy, so bones are not a problem.

Unfortunately, I think the oil for frying probably costs more than the fish!



  • 400g sprats
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • A large pinch of salt
  • A large pinch of ground white pepper
  • Sunflower or vegetable oil for deep-frying
Suggested Dips: Chinese red vinegar, tomato ketchup, Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce, sweet chilli sauce

Serves 2-3



  • Using a sharp knife, cut the heads off the sprats and cut along the underside through the belly. Scrape/pull the guts out and discard. Give the sprats a quick rinse
  • Place the sprats onto kitchen towels and dry thoroughly
  • Place 1 tbsp cornflour, a large pinch of salt and a large pinch of ground white pepper into a plastic bag (I use a sandwich bag) and shake thoroughly to mix
  • Add the sprats to the bag, close and shake around until they are coated in the cornflour mixture
  • Remove the sprats from the bag and dust off any excess cornflour
  • Place 3-4cm depth of sunflower oil into a small wok and heat until very hot. I test this by placing a wooden chopstick into the oil, and when it starts to bubble, you know the oil is hot enough
  • Add the sprats, 4-5 at a time to the oil. Be careful not to overload the wok, or the sprats will turn soggy. If you want to fry more sprats at a time, then increase the depth of the oil, but it should never reach more than a third of the height of the wok or pan. The sprats should be able to move freely when you swirl the oil around the wok
  • Keeping the heat high, deep fry for 2-3 minutes, swirling them around the wok periodically and turning them once
  • Remove from the wok and place on a warmed plate on kitchen towels
  • Repeat until all of the sprats are cooked
  • Remove the kitchen towels and serve immediately with an assortment of dipping sauces

Deep-Fried Sprats with Red Chinese Vinegar (油炸鯡魚點醋)
Deep-Fried Sprats

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