99 Pieces of Fish in the Fridge: Part III
How can you have twenty pounds of fish in the refrigerator and not get a craving for beer-battered, deep-fried-yet-moist-and-tender fish, with homemade crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside fries? I mean really. Is this even possible? Even though I’m not a big fan of deep frying anything at home (it’s messy, makes the house smell greasy, and I’m lazy) sometimes you just have to take the plunge, no pun intended (honest).
Fish and chips make me think of my father; the dish reminded him of when he was boy and his father would bring home a deliciously greasy, newspaper wrapped fish and chips dinner after work for a special treat. Mom used to make this quite often at home (minus the newspaper). I think she used just salt and pepper to flavor the batter, and she left out the beer, but I won’t let nostalgia stop me from adding it to mine. I’m such a rebel.
Dad always ate his fish and chips with malt vinegar, but since the herbs are taking off in my garden, I decided to whip up a quick tartar sauce. Nothing but the best for the grand fish fry the hubby and I put together for his fellow brave fishermen, and the wimmenfolk who selflessly chose to stay home and keep a close eye on our air conditioners.
I even managed to find french cornichons. Here. In Wichita. I wouldn’t really be surprised if a pig flew by right now.
It’s important for the oil to be at least 3 inches deep or more, but also at least 3 inches from the top of the pot. This is so it can maintain its temperature better as you add things to it, but not bubble over. Too little oil, or too many pieces of fish or potatoes added at once, and the temperature of the oil will drop too fast, resulting in a greasy, soggy product. Yum. Not.
A friend that worked at a french-fry and hotdog joint for a summer told me that the key to really crispy fries is to pre-cook them. That means you fry them twice (just in case you missed it… like I did when she first explained it). Also, remember to cook in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pot, and make sure the oil returns to temperature between every batch.
Classic Fish and Chips
2 lbs firm fleshed fish such as cod, halibut, tilapia or haddock.
Peanut or Canola oil for frying, enough to fill the pot at least 3 inches deep
3-4 large russet potatoes for 4 people
1 cup all purpose flour plus more for dredging
¼ cup peanut or grapeseed oil
1 bottle of your favorite robust beer (I used Sam Adams Boston Lager)
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp old bay seasoning
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Tartar Sauce (recipe follows)
Makes a generous amount of batter for 2 lbs of fish.
Whisk the flour with the salt, paprika, old bay and pepper. Add the oil and mix until just combined. Slowly add in the beer, a bit at a time, whisking vigorously, until the batter is the consistency of a thick pancake batter and all the lumps are gone. You will probably need a bit more than half of the bottle of beer. What you do with the other half is completely up to you. I won’t tell.
The Chips (pre-cook):
Scrub, peel (or leave on the peel for a more rustic look) and cut the potatoes into sticks about ½ inch wide. Rinse and set aside in a bowl filled with cold water. Heat up the oil to 350°F in a deep fryer or a dutch oven. Drain and dry off the potatoes very well. Add a handful at a time to the hot oil, moving them around occasionally until they just turn lightly golden, about 5 minutes per batch. Remove and allow drain on paper towels. Set the cooked potatoes aside for now.
Preheat oven to 225°F. Dry the fish well with paper towels. Cut the fish into 2 or 3 inch pieces. Lightly dredge the pieces in flour and shake off the excess flour. The fish should be lightly dusted. Make sure the oil is back up to 350°F, then dip the fish completely in the batter, letting the excess drip off for a quick second, and then carefully add the battered fish to the oil. Cook only a few pieces at a time until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oil and let drain on paper towels. Keep the fish warm on paper towels or a wire rack in the 225° F oven until ready to serve. I promise that the fish stays nice and crispy in the oven, so take your time and return the oil to 350°F between each batch.
The Chips (Final Cook):
Once all fish is cooked, reheat the oil (yes, the same oil, it’ll be fine) to 360°F. Add a few handfuls of the previously cooked fries. Cook for 4- 5 minutes or until brown and crispy. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Repeat until all potatoes are cooked.
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp finely minced cornichons (small, sour French pickles) or dill pickles
1 tbsp finely minced capers
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 tbsp lemon juice
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.