The best way to eat whitebait is by the seaside on a Greek island. In Greek, whitebait are called marida (μαρίδα). They are enjoyed after being dredged in flour and then fried in hot oil until just golden. Sometimes they are eaten as meze with a glass or two of ouzo, or as part of a main meal, along with a large bowl of fava and some horta (boiled wild greens) - and a glass of wine. To eat them, you pop the whole thing in your mouth and eat it like a little french fry. If you don't like the heads, you can snap them off when you eat them.
The last time I enjoyed marida by the sea, was on a visit to Lefkada. After a morning spent shopping in the town, we could not resist the impossibly fresh seafood that had just been caught and was on sale in the town's fishmongers. The little shop fronts, made out of corrugated iron, were completely open. The fish and seafood, on sale, was not protected behind a sterile sheet of glass. It was open to the sea air, beautifully glistening on a tray of marble and crushed ice.
The fishmonger's was clearly the place to be for the older gentleman of the town, as both the fishmongers (next door to each other) had a throng of moustached and Greek sailor capped men, some standing behind the counter talking animatedly, some sitting in plastic garden chairs - the soothing click of komboli, acting like commas in their conversation. Some also smoked and there was a strong air of frying fish, rigani and the unique smell of Karelia cigarettes. Clearly, buying fish for the household was a job for the man of the house. Mr K was immediately drawn to the shops and his question in Greek, to these gruff old sailors about what was on offer and the best way to cook it, flowed beautifully.
It is best to enjoy marida when the days become warmer. Pour yourself a glass of wine, throw open your windows to the air and cook these very small fish. They are incredibly tasty and I guarantee, they will transport you to happy memories of time spent by the seaside.
Whitebait (marida / μαρίδα)
* 1/2 kg of whitebait (the smaller the better)
* sea salt
* freshly ground pepper
* flour for dredging
* oil for frying
Step 1. If larger fish, clean by using a sharp knife and remove stomach and intestines (you won't need to do this if the fish are smaller, under 2 inches). Scrape off the scales with a knife. Wash fish well and drain.
Step 2. Combine flour, salt, and pepper on a plate.
Step 3. Heat 1/2 inch of olive oil in a frying pan, over medium heat. Dredge the fish by rolling in flour and shaking off excess. Fry until nicely golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towel.
Step 4. Serve with lemon wedges, fava and horta.