The word whitebait does not refer to a single species. It is a general term used in many countries to describe small freshwater fish that are tender and edible.
In spring, whitebait (could be various species about 4-5 cm long) make their way upstream from the sea, swimming near the river’s edge. Large shoals are referred to as runs. Big runs often follow floods, a few days after the water clears – usually in the daytime on a rising tide. White baiters will catch and sell them around $120 per kg which makes whitebait a delicacy.
NZ Whitebait is tender and the entire fish is edible including head, fins, bones and guts.
Chinese whitebait is raised in fish farms and plentiful quantities are produced for export. The Chinese whitebait (silverfish) is larger than the New Zealand whitebait and not nearly so delicate. The frozen product is commonly available in supermarkets at only a fraction of NZ whitebait prices.
In farmers markets, when in season, you can buy whitebait fritters that come with a piece of bread for $7 or $8 a piece.
For a more hearty meal (below picture), you check out some of Auckland’s restaurant with whitebait on the menu here.
Sharing my whitebait omelette (recipe below) served on Ciabatta bread with a balsamic & olive oil dip. This is a good snack with a glass of cold beer or my favourite Sauvignon Blanc.
Ingredients (for two pieces of whitebait omelette)
80 grams of whitebait
lemon pepper & salt (a few dashes)
a dash (or a level teaspoon) of self-raising flour (optional)
a small cube of butter
- I use a Pancake Maker to fry the omelettes. First, crack and beat the eggs a little. Add all ingredients to the mixture.
- Switch on the Pancake Maker and grease with butter. Pour the mixed ingredients into two pancake portions and cooked till the whitebait turns white (about 3-5 minutes).
PS If you want a true taste of whitebait, you need to double the whitebait quantity to at least 50 grams of whitebait per egg.
Slice two pieces of fresh Ciabatta bread. Place the two pieces of whitebait omelettes, one of each slice.
Take out a small dipping dish and pour some olive old and balsamic vinegar.
The omelette can be eaten on its own to enjoy the natural aroma of the whitebait. They tasted light and delicate. Only use the bread on the dip.
The West Coast has its own set of rules when it comes to whitebaiting. Whitebaiting season on the Coast runs from 1 September to 14 November. This is shorter than around the rest of the country, where the season stretches from 15 August to 30 November. West Coast whitebaiting is also governed by a number of strict regulations.
Enjoy our NZ Whitebait, our local delicacy.