Dec 21, 2013

Fritto di Paranza ~ Fried Whitebait Recipe

We Italians are great fans of fried fish, and little else will bring smiles quicker around the dinner table than a fritto di paranza, a fry of assorted small fish, whose name is inspired by the typical wooden fishing boats used in southern Italy.

In many families, Christmas Eve dinner revolves around a menu of fresh fish. Before placing the babe statuette in the crèche manger, my family and I will be enjoying crisp fritto di paranza, along with other festive foods.

The requirements for awesome fritto di paranza are using absolutely freshly caught wild fish, and good frying skills.
Some confuse this recipe with Frittura Mista, which also may include calamari, shrimp, prawns, cuttlefish, squid and other assorted mollusks and crustaceans. But traditional fritto di paranza is made with 2-inch long (from head to tail) fish, which have been simply rolled in flour, deep fried, and then served with lemon wedges and a raw onion. You smash the onion, and eat crunchy bits of it with the fried pesciolini – heads and all (unless they're a little larger than 3 inches, in which case you may want to remove the heads). Purists frown on cleaning the fish, claiming the intestines provide a slightly sharper flavor. I prefer my paranza fish cleaned, but when the heads are small they're pleasingly crunchy, and the tails serve as perfect handles.

The best choice for paranza is shimmery-skinned pesce azzurro, and in particular, a local variety of whitebait called Latterini – small silvery-white fish. Latterini generally designate other varieties of small newborn fish, but only latterini can be bought without infringing the law, since these are a particular species whose adults never grow beyond their 2-3 inch size, while as far as the other kinds of newborn catch – like immature herring, sprat, sardines, mackerel, and bass – their marketing is illegal.

Common Neapolitan paranza may include, according to season and availability, small codfish, red mullet, little sole fish (in Naples called fricassuàr) and other small species like anchovies, and rock goby.

Fritto di paranza has one more mandatory clause, and that is it must be eaten absolutely piping hot. The Neapolitan expression frijenno magnanno, refers to exactly that, and it translates "frying and eating," implying the fritto should be eaten as it is being fried.

Here's what you'll need to make fritto di paranza to serve 4:

1 kg (2.2 lbs) of assorted tiny, 2-inch sized whitebait
2 cups flour for dredging
Abundant olive oil for frying
2 pinches of sea salt
Several lemons, cut into wedges
1 large white onion, peeled

Wash, clean out and pat the fish dry.

Coat thoroughly with flour, making sure each little fish is well covered. In batches, fry the whitebait for about 3-4 minutes, until crisp and lightly golden. Remove from the bubbling oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towels. Repeat until all the fish are fried.

Season with salt and serve with the lemon wedges and the raw onion shreds.

Keep crusty home-style bread, and one or more chilled bottles of Vermentino in an ice bucket, within close reach.

Image ©


  1. Replies
    1. Happy Holidays to you, and thanks for stopping by!

  2. This is one of my alltime favorite snacks, known as "petite friture" in Provence.

    1. It is a great snack, and practical street food in the south of Italy, where it's eaten out of a paper cone, fried off a burner on the street! Heading over to check out your blog now :)

  3. This looks absolutely divine. I really miss this kind of cooking—almost impossible to find fish that small (and fresh) Stateside, sadly.

    1. Gosh I'm so sorry to be replying to this so late! I never got the alert...
      Anyway, thank you dear!! This kind of simple cooking is my absolute favorite, shame you have difficulty getting the goods...

  4. Hope you had a very Happy Christmas, darling. . . . . . . . and my very best wishes for 2014 . . . . . may you be showered with the blessings of life ~ Eddie x

  5. Oh my, you took me back, again...
    Every Friday, Mother would meet the fishmonger at the open market early in the morning, and come home with whatever was available that day. We had these small fish frequently, fried, head, tail on, and couldn't get enough of them. Since we were closer to Bari, I assume our fish came from those waters. Thanks for the memories, E.

    1. My dearest, please accept my apologies for replying this late to your heartfelt comment, as told Frank, I never got the comment alert :(
      I'm so happy this triggered a pleasant memory, Rosaria.
      Big huge hugs

  6. This sounds so amazing!! Makes me wish I were Italian (or cook at least could cook like one) :)

    1. This is such an easy recipe! Go on, try it!! :)
      Thanks for stopping by, and sorry for the tardy reply :)

  7. Love this. I've actually never made it so now will attempt.
    Thank you so much!

    1. Oh, you must! It's so good and easy, you and your guests will love it
      Buon appetito!

  8. Very good and informative article, thanks for this posting..

  9. It's very delicious fishing foods. Thanks for sharing your recipe.