Most persistent organic pollutants, due to their hydrophobic properties, accumulate in aquatic sediments and represent a high risk for sediment quality. To assess the toxicity of hydrophobic pollutants, a novel approach was recently proposed as an alternative to replace, refine and reduce animal experimentation: the medaka embryo-larval sediment contact assay (MELAc). This assay is performed with Japanese medaka embryos incubated on a natural sediment spiked with the compound being tested. With the aim of improving this assay, our study developed a reference exposure protocol with an artificial sediment specifically designed to limit natural sediment composition uncertainties and preparation variability. The optimum composition of the new artificial sediment was tested using a model polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), fluoranthene. The sediment was then validated with two other model PAHs, benz[a]anthracene and benzo[a]pyrene. Various developmental end points were recorded, including survival, embryonic heartbeat, hatching delay, hatching success, larval biometry and abnormalities. The final artificial sediment composition was set at 2.5 % dry weight (dw) Sphagnum peat, 5 % dw kaolin clay and 92.5 % dw silica of 0.2- to 0.5-mm grain size. In contrast with natural sediments, the chemical components of this artificial matrix are fully defined and readily identifiable. It is totally safe for fish embryos and presents relatively high sorption capacities for hydrophobic compounds. Studies with other hydrophobic and metallic contaminants and mixtures should be performed to further validate this artificial sediment.