December 7, 2009

An Experiment in Fish and Chips

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We feed my British grandmother every Sunday. She eats a lot for a 91 year old and if there's one thing I like about her it's that she can appreciate the taste of well-made food. She said a couple of weeks ago that she'd been craving fish and chips like she had when she was a child. I sort of took it as a challenge. Never mind that I have pretty much no experience cooking fish (I'm scared of it) and pretty much no experience deep frying anything (a few burns thwarted my desire to have access to delicious fatty foods in my own home).

I started out by heading over to Rick's Wild Seafood food cart on SW 3rd and Ash downtown Portland. (I have to specify Portland since I live in the suburbs and West Linn is my frame of reference now. *sob*) Plus, they sell frozen cod for $3.40/lb, so I decided to pick some up while I was testing their professional fish and chips.

The poor girl at the cart was bundled up - it was freezing yesterday! I ordered my fish and chips and the girl re-fried the chips (which is what the British do. I checked online. So it must be accurate!) and threw the fish in the deep fryer. A few minutes later, I was warming my hands on the hot fries and fish, and filling my belly rather quickly. It happened to be my breakfast and lunch that day. The fish was crunchy and I could see the herbs in the crust. A squeeze of lemon was just what it needed. It was tame in flavor, which is the experience I have had with all the fish and chips I have ever had. Which is not many. Because as I said before, fish scare me. A bit.

Because my sense of what one pound of cod would amount to in fried fish is bizarrely off, I decided to play it safe and over do it by getting five pounds of cod to take home. FIVE. As it turns out, that is quite a lot of fish. Hello, freezer.

So anyway, this morning I started on my journey to make a real British fish and chips dinner. I started out by making the tartar sauce. Quite easy, actually. Sweet pickles, capers, flat leaf parsley, two teaspoons of spicy mustard, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a cup of mayo in the food processor. Mine turned out a little green due to perhaps an over abundance of parsley, but I liked it that way.

I made coleslaw with shredded cabbage and one shredded sweet onion and a vinegar-based dressing and let it marinate. Chopped up the Russet potatoes into thick, bite-sized pieces, tossed them with olive oil and salt and threw them in the oven to bake. I wasn't going to attempt frying everything. Especially because my parents don't generally eat fried food, and I didn't want to kill them off.

Keeping that in mind, I decided to make some baked fish as well as the traditional beer-batter fish. You know. Gotta please everyone.

The beer batter was very simple. Self-rising flour + a little salt & pepper + seafood seasoning + one bottle of beer (I used a brown English ale); whisked together until thickened and smooth.

For the baked fish, I dredged it in flour + seasoning, then egg bath, then homemade breadcrumbs with herbs. For both kinds of fish, I seasoned the fish first with salt and pepper and seafood seasoning. I am sort of a flavor fiend, so I seasoned probably way more than is traditional. But I liked it. A lot.

The fish baked for about 20 minutes at 350 and the fish fried in 3 inches of hot canola oil for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the piece of fish. I was by no means consistent in the sizing, so we had small pieces and large pieces. The fried fish was moist and flaky and perfectly cooked. The seasoning came through in the crust quite well. The baked fish was drier and maybe a bit overcooked, but still tasted good.

To round out the British meal, I heated up some peas, then drained them and smashed them with yogurt and salt and pepper.

It was a hit. My grandmother loved it and said it was just like her mother used to make. I wonder if my great-grandmother was a flavor fiend, too.

*Photos of my fish and chips dinner by the lovely Chelsea Fuss.


Transformations said...

That looks so good! England is my second home and I've had more than my share of great f&c there, but I can't believe how you nailed it without ever going there! BRILLIANT! I want to be a client of yours when you start cooking for others...

Lizzy said...

Rebecca, you will be the first to know when I launch that business:)

henzy said...

looks yummy