Monday, April 13, 2009

Fish and Chips (hold the chips)

So my fiancĂ© and I were watching Food Network yesterday and saw a throwdown between Bobby Flay (nee asshole) and this Fish&Chips place here in manhattan run by some bloke who has been cooking fish and chips in England since he was 7 at a place I’ve passed many times and wanted to try but never actually went into called A Salt And Battery. Well, after an hour of watching F&C we both sat there moaning about how much we wanted some- good, light, crunchy, fresh ones, not crap from the freezer. So we decided to do it. Only, we were too lazy to make the chips portion. So whatever. We also made the tartar sauce. Here’s the thing- I highly recommend you make the tartar sauce at LEAST an hour beforehand, though if you can let it sit in the fridge say overnight, I think that would be better.

Tartar Sauce (makes a SHITLOAD)

1. 3 heaping tablespoons sweet relish.

2. 1 minced garlic clove

3. 1 minced scallion

4. 1 teaspoon pepper

5. 2 tablespoons lemon juice

6. 2 tablespoons pickle juice (acts as a thinner)

7. 1 cup mayonnaise

Pretty much mix everything together nicely, then adjust for taste. I started with 2 tablespoons of relish and 1 tablespoon lemon and it was okay, but a bit heavy on the mayonnaise flavor. Adding more relish and lemon really made it much better and the mayonnaise gave a nice creaminess rather than being a heavy flavor. I saw a recipe that recommended sticking it all into a blender, but I like mine with a little texture and it seems a bit of a lot of cleaning for such a small thing. Note that this makes a hell of a lot so you might want to either cut the amounts used or simply store it for another day. Or make more fish, whatever. The pickle juice I used was the brine from some pickles bought on Essex street, so you know it’s the good stuff. Joanna gives it two thumbs up.

The Fish.

Now, I’ve never deep fried anything so this was a bit new for me. Luckily, my lovely assistant Joanna handled that part of it. Now this is a variant of the classic beer batter. However, beer batter tends to taste a bit like, well, beer and neither Joanna nor I really care for the flavor. So instead, we substituted seltzer. It gives it a nice, lightness which you get from beer, but without the instrusive flavor. We ended up with a batter which was crunchy but with a fairly delicate flavor that allowed the flavor of the fish itself to come through.

1. 2 pounds of cod

2. 2 cups flour

3. 2 cups cornmeal

4. 3 cups seltzer

5. 2 eggs

6. 1 teaspoon pepper

7. 1 teaspoon salt

8. A shitload of vegetable oil


1. Head to your local fishmonger. Seriously- as with all fish, the fresher, the better. We, being in Chinatown, have a few within easy walking distance. I dunno what the usual price is but we got about 2 pounds worth (2 large fillets) for $11.50 and this stuff was really nice. Yes, that’s right- I’m eating fish from a Chinatown fishmonger. Again. If I come down with heavy metal poisoning some day, you’ll know why.

2. Debone the fish and slice into pieces roughly 2”x3” (some wiggle room is fine of course- but we found that too big took a bit longer to cook- although that might have been because of the oil temp- more on this later.)

3. Dump the vegetable oil into a big pot and put it over a high flame. We used vegetable oil because we didn’t want any flavors from the oil affecting the taste of the cod (papa, I’m talking to you- don’t use goddamn peanut oil or olive oil or mustard seed oil or hair oil or whatever unless you want your fish to taste like anything but fish). You need to let the oil pre-heat for about 10 minutes before it will be the right temperature. Some people have thermometers, I do not.

4. Combine all the dry ingredients together with a whisk. The corn meal is, I admit, a little odd. I was afraid that it would make the batter gritty. As a matter of fact, it didn’t since it ended up being crisp. However, it still strikes me as rather odd. I looked up several recipes and they all recommended it, so I used it but it still seems a touch odd to me. As I said, because they were fried to a nice crispness, it wasn’t a problem, but I still think it seemed wrong. Thoughts from across the pond?

5. Crack in the eggs and add half the seltzer, THEN stir. With the amount of dry ingredients involved if you try stirring having only added the eggs, you will end up with a large ball of goo in the middle of your whisk. Once the mixture is homogenous, add the rest of the seltzer and keep mixing. You may need to adjust the amounts of seltzer and flour and cornmeal. My original amount I used 1.5 cups each of the flour and cornmeal, and 2 cups of seltzer. That ended up being too thick. I added another cup of seltzer (yes, I thought it was foolish adding so much at once, but there you have it). It ended up being watery. I added 1/3 cup each of corn meal and flour So really it’s not 2 cups each, it’s 1 5/6 cups each but close enough, says I. Anyway, the consistency should be roughly that of a thin pancake batter. It should coat your fish, but not glop on.

6. Take your fish and dunk them in, good and covered. Let some excess drip off.

7. Take battered fish and carefully drop them into the oil. Now this is delicate- the oil MUST have been preheated, or you’re fucked. How do you know the temperature is okay? Well, you never really know for sure until you add your first piece. However, you can try testing with a drop of just the batter. It should bubble like crazy, but not dangerously so. That’s about all I can tell you. Joanna got nervous after a while and turned down the heat. After a while we noticed some of the pieces were taking forever to cook and weren’t browning. I suggested turning the heat back up- worked like a charm. So keep the heat up on high the whole time, if you can.

8. Leave the fish in the oil for ~7 minutes. By this point they should be a nice gold and brown. Take them out with tongs or a mesh scoop or whatever (do NOT use plastic- it’ll melt). Put them onto a plate covered with a few paper towels and let cool a minute or two.

9. Dunk cooked fish into tartar sauce and enjoy!

Note: The amount of battery is ludicrously more than you need for only 2 pounds of fish. I’m giving the measurements I used because I know that they work, but feel free to half this. That said, this is actually healthier than you might think (among other things because of the clean oil, etc.). Make sure you let the oil cool before you chuck it- and please do throw it out, don’t save it.

One thing I rather liked about this recipe was that it was pretty cheap. It mostly used stuff I had around the house. The only things I needed to buy were the fish and the oil (we don’t use much oil in my home). I am telling you this- after 1 pound of fish, you will be full, so if you plan on adding chips (not fries unless they are steak fries. Real chips are meant to be chipped off of a potato) then you can probably feed four with this recipe.

One other thing. Some recipes call for salting your fish before you dip them in the batter. I’m not a huge salt guy and I’ve had fish that was too salty because they did that. I also know that when Bobby Flay (*asshole*) was doing that on the show, the guys from A Salt and Battery were looking over saying “Oh no, he’s salting the fish…” in a “look what that idiot is doing” kind of voice. Their fish and chips have consistently been rated as the best in the western hemisphere, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

You can add things like paprika to the batter to give it a little spice. However, to my mind the batter is mant to be fairly subtle in flavor and act as a nice baseboard for the fish to come from. The fish, being cod (you can use other white fish, but cod is really traditionally best) is fairly light in flavor itself, and so is easily covered up. The big flavoring I would use is the tartar sauce. However, should you get ahold of some malt vinegar, sprinkle some over your fish and give it a try- let me know how it comes out (I don’t have any on hand, but was more interested in the tartar sauce anyway)

I should also say- I despise tartar sauce, and have since I as a little kid. However, a few years ago I finally tried some and to my surprise I enjoyed it. I discovered what an absolute world of difference there is between home-made (which is surprisingly easy) and store-bought tartar. If you, like me, hate both mayonnaise and tartar sauce, give this recipe a shot- you might be surprised.

Edit: I have now tried the recipe by changing one or two things. First, got rid of the corn meal. Also, added some salt and pepper to the batter itself. Third, let the oil run hot the whole time- yes it bubbles at first but it will go down within seconds. I also tried making a slightly thicker batter and not letting as much drip off post-dredge. My conclusion- there's a leeway in the thickness of the batter. However, it is a good idea to really let the majority of the excess to drip off. Otherwise you get pieces curling up on themselves, or giant globs of the stuff you're biting into, etc. And don't be afraid to let it go an extra minute or two- you really want them nice and golden- if they're too pale, you can eat them but they aren't as nice. Added to this, the lack of cornmeal definately improved the flavor and texture. We also tried chips- not so hard all in all, but not so interesting. We made the tartar sauce int he morning and let it sit throughout the day until we cooked- made a huge diffrence- learn from this.