For many, it is a great way to supplement their income; for others, money raised over the short three-month ‘bait season is their income.
Regardless of how it is obtained, whitebait has a unique taste, unparalleled by any other form of seafood. Once caught, whitebait is cleaned whole in fresh water, drained and then cooked.
Like most seafood, fresh is best and the cooking is simple. Beat an egg, add pepper, salt and a generous ladle of ‘bait, mix together briefly before pouring fritter-sized portions into a hot pan in which a little butter has been melted. Cook through and eat.
If you must, chop up a little parsley and perhaps add a squeeze of lemon over the cooked fritter. Nothing you do will enhance that basic taste, it will only detract from the pure whitebait flavour.
Any other recipes are mostly variations on that theme.
When it comes to buying whitebait at either the fishmonger or from the supermarket, beware of imitations. Always ask at a restaurant before choosing whitebait to ensure it is the domestic product they are cooking. There is a Chinese imported version of whitebait which is not a patch on the Kiwi ‘bait, and is quite bland in comparison – buyer beware!