I think I keep on overcooking whitebait. Here is what I am doing:

Quickly bring water to a boil, lower to simmer,

Add whitebait(which may remove simmer since food lowers temp),

move heat to high until water is starts simmering again,

simmer for 1 minute,

turn whitebait over.

simmer for 1 minute.

Basically fish should spend 1 minute in poached water and 2 minutes in simmering water.

My problem is that even after the above I notice the overcooked fish smell which tastes nasty.
I know people say look at the texture for measure of doneness however I think the cooking time is so short and when i check it it is done.

Can you see where im going wrong? Is it that the two minutes are on a simmer, but it should be on a poach? Should it only be two minutes from the time the fish is added and not more?

2 Answers 2


So, I am not sure whether this is a satisfactory answer as it suggests a different cooking method but here goes

In Greece whitebait (mostly anchovies) is either flash fried after being coated in strong flour or cooked low in the oven covered in lemon, oregano and oil. This latter method matches yours closely - essentially you want to confit it in olive oil in less than 100˚C and make sure you add plenty of oregano or thyme and - if you don't like the sourness of lemon (I do!) use lemon rind. If olive oil isn't plentiful where you are, you can get away with using sunflower oil although the result won't be as tasty. The cooking time is forgiving as it is really low heat.

In any case, the rule of thumb in Greece is to never boil small fish: either fry or oven cook.

  • in my case i'm limited in that i can't use dry heat methods. I have to either eat raw, steamed or poached etc. Cannot do grill, fry or oven etc Mar 9, 2017 at 23:55
  • Eat raw (marinated) then! Cover layers of boned fish with salt and leave in a fridge for 24 h somehow collecting the juices. Discard juices and thoroughly wash fish w cold water. Then immerse in white wine vinegar for 3-5 hours and strain (don't wash now) and transfer to containers with your favourite spices (bay, dill, parsley, peppercorns etc) and cover with olive oil entirely.
    – Giorgos
    Mar 10, 2017 at 7:52
  • That's a good idea, but as someone with a weak immune system, I'm not sure if it would be safe. To be honest I don't even need the marinade, I'd be happy to eat raw with some salt, but then there's the safety issue which is preventing me. Mar 11, 2017 at 8:14

I have, in 40+ years of eating whitebait, never heard of anyone poaching them. To my knowledge, they should be lightly coated in seasoned flour, and then fried in very hot oil until golden in colour and crisp in texture. Poaching them would make them soft at best, and disintegrate at worst. They should be crisp enough to eat with the fingers if need be.

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