A couple weeks ago I went to Auckland to catch up with some family who were over from The States, to watch the Rugby World Cup semi finals, to Bungee off the Auckland harbour bridge and to catch up with my mum. I spent a night down in Hamilton to check out my Mum’s new place and see how the renovations are coming along. The drive between Auckland and Hamilton is so much better than it used to be- thanks to improved roads and is dotted with foodie attractions like Pokeno Bacon and the Mercer Dutch cheese shop. I large sign advertising whitebait caught my attention and I could not resist.
Whitebait is a New Zealand delicacy, folks have their favourite spot to catch them and spend hours gently corralling into their large nets. I have tried, these little guys are timid and skittish and it takes a lot of time and patience to fill a small tub.
There was a lot of discussion on how to cook these guys, and the consensus was fritters, but I have had bad whitebait fritters and did not want to risk creating rubbery fish pancakes so I decided on this version. Tip- only add the flour just before you fry, otherwise they go gluggy and stick together, also I skipped making the mayonnaise, and use my old time favourite- Best Foods.
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 lime, finely grated rind only
1 tbsp smoked sea salt, plus extra for seasoning (see note)
300 gm small whitebait
75 gm (½ cup) plain flour
150 ml olive oil
50 ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 egg yolks
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp smoked paprika
Dry-roast cumin in a frying pan over high heat, stirring continuously, for 20 seconds or until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar, cool slightly, then, using a pestle, finely grind. Add rind, smoked sea salt and freshly ground white pepper and combine.
For smoky mayonnaise, combine oils in a jug. Process remaining ingredients in a food processor until smooth, gradually add oil mixture, one drop at a time, then in a thin steady stream until smooth and emulsified. (If mixture becomes too thick, thin with a little hot water before adding more oil.) Season to taste with smoked sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. Makes about ¾ cup. Mayonnaise will keep refrigerated for 1 week.
Preheat sunflower oil in a deep-fryer or large, deep saucepan to 180C. Combine whitebait and flour in a bowl, season to taste and toss to coat. Sift excess flour from whitebait with a coarse sieve. Fry in batches, for 5 minutes or until crisp and golden, drain on absorbent paper and season with cumin salt. Serve with mayonnaise, cumin salt and lime wedges to the side.
Note Smoked sea salt, such as Halen Môn, is available from Simon Johnson and select delicatessens.