Please take pity on the humble sprat!
I know it is fun to go out and buy fish and chips all wrapped up in paper and then eat it with your fingers (something I approve of and I believe all adults and children should get stuck in with their paws whenever they can get away with it!), but when I do buy fish and chips I am so often disappointed. Oh, I know some very few establishments cook it beautifully, but most don't and I always end up feeling stuffed and uncomfortable!
So, for people who really love fish, this is my take using one of the cheapest fishies out there - the sprat!
For those of you that don't know, a sprat is a small fish, typically about 10cm long that is a member of the herring family. They are very nutritious, much more so than a lump of cod, and they cost very little. I bought a great big bag of fresh sprats today, enough for four hungry people, for a couple of quid (UK Pounds, for you non-Britons). They are also very tasty.
What is especially nice about them is that because they are small and tender, when fried up you can eat them bones and all!
So, here we go with Sprats, Chips and Mushy Peas.
- 1kg fresh sprats (that is enough for four very hungry people)
- 2 huge King Edward or Maris Piper spuds
- 2 tins of Marrow Fat peas
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- coriander leaf
- pepper and salt
- dried herbs.
- plain flour
- Oil (Olive oil for the sprats)
Cleaning the Sprats
This is very easy but takes a little patience. Most fish mongers will assume that you will clean your own sprats as there will be a lot of them to do! Consequently, they come complete with heads and icky inside bits.
With a VERY sharp filleting knife, remove the heads and then slit along the belly. Gently scrape out the icky stuff and discard. You can keep the heads for stock if you like, but they won't be used with this dish. Wash the fish gently. These are little fish and very delicate - treat them kindly!
Put a cup or so of plain flour on a plate and season with salt, pepper and dried herbs of your choice. Dry the fish off just a little and smother with the seasoned flour.
Get the Mushy Peas on
Drain the marrow fat peas.
Finely chop a small onion and chop the garlic. Melt a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter in a pan and fry the onions and garlic very slowly till soft and just turning brown. Add the peas and a small handful of chopped coriander and leave to cook very slowly. Stir from time to time to make sure it is not sticking. If it does a little, then those can be tasty bits, but don't let it burn! Salt and Pepper to taste.
Wash the spuds but leave the skins on. Chop them into chips - you choose the size. Boil them in water till they are three-quarters cooked. Drain and let them cool.
Heat oil in a saucepan till hot and fry the chips in batches. Don't rush the frying.
Fry the Sprats
Heat a good quantity of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan - 5mm or so deep. Medium to hot is fine; don't make it incredibly hot!
Take each sprat, shake a little of the flour off, and lay it in the oil gently. You will have to do this in batches. Cook for about a minute each side, turning them when they are golden. Remove, put them on a paper towel and keep warm in a very low oven till the chips are done.
Serve the sprats with the chips, seasoned with good sea salt, and the mushy peas. Sprinkle with a little more chopped coriander and a little squeeze of lemon. Eat the chips and sprats with your fingers and the mushy peas with a wooden fork. The sprats should be nice and crunchy!
Make sure you have plenty of ice cold Guinness to hand. Strangely, chilled vodka also works. Oh, what the hell - have both!
And that is it! Fish and Chips Hogan. You won't find it any fish and chip shop, but once you have munched through this with your regular drunken pals, you will keep coming back for more.