There are not many Kiwis who dont get this far away look of delight when you mention hot whitebait patties. Its a well loved treat and a seasonal , almost spiritual experience. White baiting is a culture .With people along the coast staking out their favourite spots , setting up their little huts and nets and waiting for the catch. Its a social thing with folk knowing each other from white baiting over the years.
Here in New Zealand , whitebait are mainly caught in the lower reaches of the rivers using small open-mouthed hand-held nets although in some parts of the country where whitebait are more plentiful, larger (but not very large) set nets may be used adjacent to river banks. Whitebaiters constantly attend the nets in order to lift them as soon as a shoal enters the net. Otherwise the whitebait quickly swim back out of the net. There is a fair amount of sitting and waiting with many whitebaiters setting up little camps alongside their nets.
Typically, the small nets have a long pole attached so that the whitebaiter can stand on the river bank and scoop the net forward and out of the water when whitebait are seen to enter it. The larger nets may be set into a platform extending into the river from the bank and various forms of apparatus used to lift the net.
Whitebaiting in New Zealand is a seasonal activity with a fixed and limited period enforced during the period that the whitebait normally migrate up-river. The strict control over net sizes and rules against blocking the river to channel the fish into the net permit sufficient quantity of whitebait to reach the adult habitat and maintain stock levels. The whitebait themselves are very sensitive to objects in the river and are adept at dodging the nets.
There are many purists who swear by one recipe or another but it all depends on what you like really. White bait is costly with a kilogram selling for $120 NZ.
Greg and I have lovely memories of stopping for whitebait patties on a long drive back from the North Island.Here is one of the many recipes there are for great whitebait patties. Its best washed down with icy cold Kiwi beer.
- 3 eggs beaten
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 500 g whitebait
- 2 tablespoons light vegetable oil (for frying) or 2 tablespoons butter (for frying) or olive oil
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then mix in the milk.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Lightly beat through the flour & baking powder to ensure there are no lumps. Add the flour slowly - the mixture should be thick and runny
- In a colander, rinse the whitebait and pick out any river stones or other debris.
- Drain, and mix into the egg mixture until well combined.
- Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat, and once heated, add the butter/olive oil.
- Drop in dessert-spoonfuls of the whitebait mixture, and cook until the pattie is set ( starts to go golden on the underside). The whitebait will normally have gone white at this stage.
- Turn, and cook on the other side until golden.
- Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve, in my house they get eaten as fast as they are cooked!