The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Best great budget recipes for 50% or less: Crispy fried sprats recipe

Photo: Fresh sprats

Photo: Fresh sprats

When I lived in London I often ordered whitebait as a starter. I thought that they had to be deep fried and would be a palaver to rustle up at home. Also I rarely found them in the shops.

Eventually I discovered that they can be fried in a little oil and were fun to prepare shaken in a bag of seasoned flour.

Danny sprang in through the front door brandishing a 450g bag of sprats last week. Reduced from £2.49 to just 36p. I have never tried sprats. It’s the sort of dish that I imagined Peggotty’s family would sit down to in their converted boat (David Copperfield by Charles Dickens). Fresh from the sea, quaffed with frothy beer.

“I reckon we cook them like whitebait.”
“I don’t want to eat the heads.”
So we ventured onto the internet to see what other people think. We decided to use a combination of this BBC recipe for timings and this one. The latter was perfect, the sprats were crispy. The BBC one was a bit disappointing; perhaps we hadn’t got the temperature of the frying pan high enough. The sprats were flabby and floury.

Although heads were included in the BBC recipe, D thought “ugh”. All heads had to be guillotined and guts removed. The sprats are coated in flour before this process so they are less slippery to handle. Despite this, the beheading turned out to be rather a slow and laborious process so we tackled it together.

450g of sprats would easily feed four for a main course (with starter) or six for a hearty starter. So even at full price sprats are worth considering – a great, special yet secretly budget meal. Incidentally the dogs loved the fish heads and guts (fried) for brunch in the morning.

Main meal cost for 3-4 (Danny really struggled to eat the leftovers. Generally he eats two or three times as much as me as he skips lunch most days)

Sprats 0.36p
Oil, flour, salt and pepper 0.15p
Salt and pepper 0.02p
Chips (Mc Cain’s) Crusty bread would be a great alternative 0.45p
Salad (gem lettuce with a chopped continental spring onion and lemon infused white wine vinegar and olive oil dressing) 0.50p

Total cost for a main course for 3-4 with budget priced fish £1.48
Full price sprats meal £3.60

The budget version is just under 50p a portion for a very special and delicious main course. And 90p a portion for full priced Tesco fish counter sprats – plus chips, salad and everything else for your main course. I personally would start with a light veggie soup and crusty bread. Followed by sprats with French fries and salad. Finishing with a homemade sorbet or even better homemade fresh fruit jellies. The latter is so easy if you start the day before. Everyone always seems to pounce on the small glasses with glee. Some good coffee and a homemade raspberry liqueur  go down exceptionally well if you want your guests to linger.

  Leave a reply


  1. I saw sprats on the fish stall at my local market today and they looked so fresh and delicious the the piece of plaice I intended to buy was forgotten and a lb of sprats was bought instead. (£2!)

    Thank you all so much for the recipe ideas… one will be sampled tonight!

    Does anyone know if they can be pickled like anchovies or not? I absolutely adore pickled anchovies but the are so expensive and some are too sharp. Thanks

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hello S.O.L.

    Thank you very much for the tomato recipes. Mouth watering.

    Hi Robbie

    Thanks so much for this recipe. Definitely one to be treasured!

  3. These little fish so far have been largely ignored by the celeb. chefs thank goodness, something i used to do for the kids, but be warned it is a bit of a trial, but utterly delicious. Head, gut and take out the backbone but leave each sprat in one piece. then spread a little soft french cheese (boursin)inside, fold back together lightly dust in flour and fry in shallow oil, it’s best to do all the prep first, or you will never keep up with the eatees!

  4. It is the way we get rid of all the extra tomatoes. Jamie Oliver didnt invent the salting thing. They have done something like it in southern france for years.

    We ate tomatoes like that on our first trip to France, many moons ago. And we were told, only use the dried herbs. The reason? I dont know! I wont go against a chef in France! His mother used to make it and the juice is nice with bread soaking it up. Ohhhh, to be in France in the sun.

    I suppose garlic added in a very small quantity, raw would be a delight. Stale bread warmed in the oven and you have Bruschetta. Have a great day.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Maria

    That’s a really interesting comment. How weird that it wasn’t done to eat them. We thought that they were delicious. Like whitebait but better.

    Kind of the fishmonger though to save your mum’s blushes.

    Hi Joanna

    Yes the Min Pins love fish. Not the complete food with fish but the real thing. They get the left overs and the bits we don’t eat (guts etc) and love them. They also love the shells and heads of prawns!

    Hello Natasha

    I loved these little fish. They were so scrummy. Why have I never eaten them before or even seen them in a shop?

    Hello Hank

    I looked up smelt and these are much bigger than sprats. So are sardines. Our sprats were about 3-3.5 inches long, much fatter than anchovies. If a male anchovy had an affair with a sardine this would probably be the sized of their offspring 🙂

    Loved your comment especially the bit about the heads. I know that D hasn’t read it get as I’d hear his screams. I would have eaten the heads of the sprats – nice and crunchy as the Min Pins discovered the next morning.

    Hi S.O.L.

    Great to hear that you eat the heads. Anyone with a sexy bathroom like yours would…

    Your recipe sounds mouth watering. The idea of scrunched tomatoes had D engaging his ears too.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  6. hmmm yummmmmmmm sprats. LOVELY. My dad cooks these and I am sorry to report we eat the heads!

    I think they only have a very short time frame dont they? I think they freeze well.

    I like them a bit differently from my dad, I cant just eat them on their own any more. I have to have it with tomatoes scrunched in a bowl with olive oil, dried provence herbs and a squeeze of lemon. LOVELY. great post

  7. How long are the sprats? Are they like our smelt here in the States? Or are they more like sardines? Or anchovies? They look yummy, but then I am a lover of little fish (in a Planktonic sense, to be sure…)

    I’d say gnaw on the heads if they’re smaller than your hand. Larger and it gets a bit sporty.

  8. I love sprats! They are so good for you too – one of my favourite treats in summer is lightly marinaded barbeque sprats….yum.

  9. Love all those little oily fish. Fascinated to hear that your dogs liked them too – will do the same for mine next time – thanks for the tip 😉


  10. My mother used to cook sprats when I was a child. What I could never understand was when I went with her to the fishmongers the lady behind the counter always said ‘your husband fishing again this weekend?’ which puzzled me as one, my mother was divorced and two, my father never ever fished. Years later she told me that it wasn’t the done thing to own up to eating them!! She cooked them fried in a little oil and they were one of my favourites beat fish fingers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

2,254,429 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

Copyright © 2006-2023 Cottage Smallholder      Our Privacy Policy      Advertise on Cottage Smallholder

Skip to toolbar