fish and chips
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Fish and chips are an epic dish. Fish and chips are a national treasure and can be like a religion, or (worse) a cult, a sect, brethren that will anathema the unbelievers.
There are probably as many ‘best chippies in the UK’ as there are ‘oldest pubs in Britain’. There is the famous Magpie Café in Whitby, Hanbury’s in Torquay and the Aldeburgh Fish & Chip Shop. There’s also the Fish Bar outside the train station where I live and even I can’t do chips as good as they do.
And here’s where I make an admission: I don’t like fish and chips. I’ll eat it (I eat everything) but I’m not very keen. I’m not a huge fan of deep fried things in batter and fish in my books needs to be treated more gently than smothered in liquid snot and plunged into boiling oil like some sixth circle of hell. But to one opinion like mine, you get ten of the ‘what’s not to like? crispy batter, delicate fish and chunky chips generously salted…’ and I can hardly argue. It is like I told the French I didn’t eat baguettes.
Fried fish, originally gefilte fried fish balls brought into Britain by Jewish refugees, was paired with the fried potatoes either up north or down south (both Lancashire and East London claim the fame) mid-19th century. No longer wrapped in newspaper for takeaway these days, it probably gets the hipster treatment of craft beer batter and deconstructed potato chips in many places.
I consulted Heston Blumenthal’s recipe for perfect fish and chips in order to produce mine; with the batter sans vodka (we don’t waste spirits in cooking). Dredging the fish in rice flour as he advised is definitely a good idea – batter clings to it better.
Good result, kitchen covered in grease and the need for environmentally sound oil disposal notwithstanding. And I’ve been complimented for my efforts by a true fish and chip aficionado…
fish and chipsServings: 2 generousTime: a couple of hours
- For the fish:
- 400g (about 1lb) cod or haddock fillet
- salt and pepper
- 50g (½ cup) plain flour
- 50g (½ cup) white rice flour, plus more for dusting the fish
- a pinch of baking powder
- 1 tsp honey
- 150ml (2/3 cup) cold lager beer
- 2l (1½ quart) groundnut oil
- For the chips:
- 1kg (2lb) potatoes, Maris Piper or Russet
- 2l (1½ quart) groundnut oil
Wash and peel the potatoes, cut them into chips about 1.5cm (¾ in.) thick. Soak them in a bowl of cold water for half an hour, rinse and pat dry with a tea towel. If you have the time, leave them out on paper towels for a while to dry completely.
Skin and pin bone the fish fillet and cut it in two portions.
Place the flours and the baking powder in a large bowl, add the honey and gradually stir in the lager. The batter might be a bit lumpy but if you let it chill for half an hour, the lumps will dissolve. Prepare extra rice flour on a shallow dish.
In the meantime heat the groundnut oil in a chip pan or a deep-fat fryer to 130C/250F. Plunge in the chips and cook until they are slightly coloured, about 10 minutes. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and place on a cake rack with some paper towels underneath it. Let them cool completely.
Heat the oil for the fish in another pan – or cook in one but then the chips will have to stand for a few minutes, putting them in a warm oven is a good idea. The second dip will take only a few minutes, until they colour and crisp to your liking, in oil at 190C/375F.
Heat the oil for the fish to 220C/425F. When you’re ready to cook, season it with salt and pepper, dredge each portion in the rice flour and dip in the bowl with batter. When it’s covered completely, lower each portion into the oil. Don’t forget to drizzle in some batter on its own, for scraps – arguably the best bit of fish and chips.
Cook the fish for 3 – 4 minutes until light golden brown, then turn over to the other side and cook for another minute or so. Lift the fish from the oil and drain briefly on a paper towel before serving with the chips and cooked garden peas.