What are whitebaits?
The whitebait (dialectally known as gianchetti, newborn, cento bocconi, nuccu etc.) are tiny transparent or milk- coloured fish .
Fished and used for food purposes, whitebait are biologically considered juvenile fish ( fry ); These are therefore NOT fish that remain small in size.
“Bianchetto” is NOT even synonymous with “ lattarino ” (acquadella); this creature, which remains very small even in adult form, however becomes 5-6 times larger than whitebait.
The fish species that make up the whitebait have the characteristic of spending the entire neonatal phase on the coastal coast, where they remain organized in very dense schools until the end of the development necessary to undertake the journey to the open sea.
The composition of the whitebait is usually predominantly based on blue fish , such as anchovies and sardines ; less frequently, although this depends greatly on the area in question, different species are included, such as lattarini , paganelli and sandeels (more abundant in the upper Adriatic Sea, especially in the valleys and lagoons).
“Bianchetto” is often used as a synonym for “ lipstick ”; in truth, the latter is actually made up of the Aphia minuta species and takes on a pinkish colour.
For sustainability reasons, fishing for whitebait is (fortunately) currently strictly prohibited.
Whitebaits are pale, milky in colour , and the tiny black dots of the eyes can barely be seen . They are marketed in agglomerated form, as if they were a single food ; in reality, in the standard portion of raw whitebait (about 100-150 g) there are approximately one hundred or two hundred specimens.
Nutritional characteristics of whitebait
Whitebait are fish products , therefore they belong to the fundamental group of foods . From a nutritional point of view, they are primary sources of: proteins , fats, vitamins and specific minerals.
Whitebait have an average caloric intake, which varies based on the prevailing species; it can be assumed that 100 grams of raw whitebait provide 100-150 kcal /100 g. However, we must not forget that these fish are mainly consumed fried, a method which drastically increases the lipid and energy content of the recipe.
The calories in whitebait are mainly supplied by proteins, which are of high biological value (rich in essential amino acids ), and by fatty acids , mainly of a polyunsaturated nature (in particular, bluefish whitebait is rich in omega 3 ).
It is reasonable to think that cholesterol is abundant in whitebait ; fibers are absent.
Still theoretically, whitebait should contain excellent quantities of many vitamins , such as: vitamin A , vitamin D and many B vitamins (B1, B2, PP , B12 etc.). The same applies to minerals , among which the concentrations of: calcium, phosphorus , iron and iodine should be relevant .
Whitebait, understood as an ingredient, has no notable dietary contraindications for healthy subjects. On the other hand, they should be avoided in case of hyperuricemia , especially in subjects suffering from gouty attacks . Fried foods do not lend themselves to the diet for overweight and metabolic pathologies in general.
They do not contain lactose and gluten , but consumption by people who suffer from food allergies to one or more fish products is not recommended.
They are not granted by vegetarian and vegan philosophies .
The average portion of raw or boiled whitebait could be 150 grams; that of fried whitebait should not exceed 100 g.
How are whitebait used in the kitchen?
Bianchetti recipes are of the highest gastronomic value, so much so that in many places it is still possible to find them in commercial establishments, for example in rural fish markets (street vendors) or in restaurants, despite the ministerial ban which came into force from the year 2006. Obviously, as with other products subject to fishing bans or restrictions (such as sea dates ), consumers are advised to avoid their consumption, discouraging poaching.
In Italy whitebait is eaten only after cooking ; in France, raw consumption is also widespread, with the addition of oil and lemon . The most common method is to fry small fish well separated from each other, suitably floured and dipped in extra virgin olive oil .
Alternatively, you can form flattened meatballs by adding whole chicken egg , parsley and possibly a little flour .
There is also a whitebait omelette .
Less widespread is the boiled biancatti variant.
In the past, whitebait was included in a particular mixed fry, composed only of fine products such as: crab moleche, mantis shrimp moleche , small sea eels , shrimps etc.
In Nice, a variant of the typical sauce called “pissalat” (peis salat – salted fish) is produced with whitebait fermented in brine .
Hygienic aspects of whiteners
Whitebait can have very important negative hygienic implications. Let’s look at them in more detail.
- First of all, whitebait should only be consumed fresh. They are very delicate and do not tolerate temperature reduction; much less traditional freezing . This aspect significantly increases the risk of poor preservation and a vehicle for foodborne diseases.
- Whitebait should NOT be rinsed in fresh water ; the only cleaning that can be applied is carried out directly at sea, during fishing. Much of the characteristic flavor of this food lies in the sea water that surrounds them and in all its natural elements. Furthermore, by rinsing the whitebait you would then have to dry them, risking pulping them, or leave them in a colander for a long time (during which time the freshness would continue to decrease). If too moist, the whitebait collects too much dust in the flouring and the frying result is mediocre, to say the least. The omelette would fall apart. If eaten raw, they would leave an unpleasant liquid at the bottom of the plate.
- Whitebaits are prohibited. This means that the only sources of supply are not traceable and safe. We remember that these little fish abound in the inlets of the river mouths, in the valleys and in the lagoons. It goes without saying that these places are also full of port areas, which are polluted and absolutely to be avoided.