Throwback Thursday: Beer-battered fish and chips
Fish, battered and deep-fried. Chips, my mom’s way. And peas, but not mushy ones. I’m not risking my birthright on that, if only because dried marrowfat peas are not available to me.
Fish, chips and mushy peas. Only, these peas might be mushy but they’re not mushy peas: I’d be stripped of my Yorkshire heritage if I claimed these were the northern English traditional dish by that name that accompanies fish and chips. Mushy peas, as all Lancashire or Yorkshire folk will be quick to point out, should you be so foolhardy as to get it wrong, can only be made with marrowfat peas that have dried in the field, naturally. Which are soaked in boiled water with baking powder in it for 12 hours before being simmered in salted water until the peas have broken down, and consequently become mushed. In the north of England there’s no messing about with such recipes. You either do it good and proper or bugger off back down south and take your chances with the silly grub they eat down there.
So, mushy peas these are not. Our split peas, which are, yes, dried, are field peas, not marrowfat, which are larger and plump.
Because both the chips and fish need to be hot and crisp when serving, you need to make the pea purée ahead of time. Have plates ready with lemon wedges and any sauces, so you can serve as soon as the fish is cooked. The peas can be reheated quickly on a low back burner at the point of serving, but they’re okay at room temperature too, I find.
For the minted pea purée:
3 cups frozen peas (North Country readers, look away now)
3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 Tbsp crème fraîche
2 Tbsp chopped mint
1 cup vegetable stock
Sauté the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil gently for 3 minutes and add the peas and vegetable stock and simmer for about 15 minutes while stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the mint and crème fraîche and blitz with a handheld blender until it has a coarse texture, not too smooth.
Now, to the fish and chips:
Traditional fish from a fish and chips shop is all about the batter. There are varying recipes, but with few exceptions, these days, a beer batter is preferred by the cognoscenti of such things. Again, buxom Bessie from the fish and chippy in the Huddersfield high street might beg to differ, if she has been clutching the prized family recipe to her ample bosom ever since she inherited it from the five generations that went before her, and God help her if she ever veered from it. I know that my mom’s recipe was milk-based, not beer.
There is another important factor when cooking fish and chips: that of whether you should use a wire basket. The answer is simple: you need a basket for chips, but not for battered fish. It holds the former, but the batter of the latter will stick to the basket and become a mess. So the fish are slid gently into the hot oil in the pot.
As for the temperature of the oil, I have long held that 160℃ is ideal for chips but 180℃ fish, and no, I don’t use a thermometer. Gadget-cooking has never been my thing. The eye, nose and common sense can do that job for you. I do this for chips:
- Heat the oil on a high heat just to get it really going, then turn it down to about two-thirds strength.
- Let the temperature settle for a minute or two, then dip in the end of one chip, but not your finger. Tiny bubbles should immediately start emitting from it in all directions. More like the mousse of Champagne than large bubbles as in boiling water. For fish, increase the heat and after a few minutes drop in half a teaspoonful of batter. If it browns quickly, it’s too hot. If it falls apart or sinks, it’s too cool. You want it to hold its own while slowly colouring.
When you’re happy that the temperature is constant, you’re ready to fry your chips in batches in a wire basket, or your fish without a basket.
The chips should be cooked before the fish, so that the batter for the latter is perky and crisp; it soon turns soft if not eaten immediately. But, first, pat the fish fillets dry and dust them lightly with salt. Refrigerate for an hour to firm them up.
For the chips:
The method works regardless of the quantity you’re making. The chips can be re-fried for a minute just before serving to make them sizzling hot again.
Here are my central tenets of cooking chips:
- The chips must be neither too thick nor too thin: about 1 cm in thickness, cut evenly.
- The chips must be perfectly dry. Lay them out on a fabric kitchen towel or on kitchen paper and cover with more of the same, patting down all over to absorb all moisture. Leave them like that until you’re ready to fry them.
- Don’t crowd the chip pan. They need space to move around in the hot oil.
- Drain on double kitchen paper over a colander. I always put it in the sink. Then do the next batch, and so on. Try not to eat them all as they’re so damned moreish; once you’ve tasted one you’re likely to gobble down the lot and have to explain to the family why you’re having fish and peas for supper.
Heat the oil to 160℃ and maintain that heat. Put chips into the chip pan off the heat, then immerse it into the hot oil while shaking the pan. This allows every chip to be coated in the oil. Leave this step out and they’ll stick to each other
Leave them alone. After about 5 to 7 minutes, give the pan a good shake. By now the oil has started to firm the edges of the chips, and this shake makes sure they’re well separated and swimming in the hot oil as it bubbles around them. It gives them the space they need to cook evenly.
Check that the oil is not too hot and leave them until they’re the perfect golden brown. If they’re browning too quickly, your oil is too hot. You can only judge this by the eye, neither too dark nor too light.
Lift the chip pan out while shaking it vigorously, then tip them into the paper-lined colander and do the next batch. Leave the chip pan next to them; you’ll need it again soon enough.
If there are any chips left after all your “tasting”, you can refry them in the reheated oil after you’ve done the fish.
For the fish and batter:
1 cup flour
300 ml lager, ice cold
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp paprika
4 large kingklip fillets
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together, then slowly pour in the ice cold beer while whisking like a mad thing. Have a second container to hand with more flour in it.
Make sure the fish fillets are dry.
Preheat the oil to 180℃. Fish cooks at a higher temperature than chips; if the oil is too cool, the batter may disintegrate, whereas too hot and it will burn.
Dredge each fillet in flour, shake it off, then douse in batter and let excess batter drip off, and carefully immerse in the hot oil. If it bubbles too violently, turn the heat down a little. Don’t crowd the pan, they need space for oil to flow around them. Just like the chips. If the batter separates into little pieces, the oil isn’t hot enough; increase it and carry on.
Fry for 5 to 8 minutes depending on thickness. The batter should be golden brown, neither dark nor pale. Drain on paper towel.
As soon as you’ve finished cooking the fish, add more cooking oil to the pan and bring it back to the requisite temperature for the chips. Put all the chips back into the basket (you can do this now that they are cooked) and immerse it in the oil, giving them a good shake. Fry for half a minute, just to refresh them. Serve immediately. If there are hardly any chips left, get your story ready. DM/TGIFood
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