Friday, January 11, 2013

(Almost) Classic English Fish 'n Chips


     For my thirtieth birthday, I'd planned to stay home, brew up a clone of Black Sheep's Special Ale (one of my favorites, that sadly I can no longer get fresh in the States), watch some Premier League football (that's soccer to all the rest of y'all) and take an afternoon off from filling out job applications.  Much to my chagrin, I got up this morning and my brewing yeast hadn't proofed.  What to do?  Well, it turns out that I like cooking almost as much as I like brewing, had nothing in particular planned for lunch, and I decided to attempt something I'd tried several times before, but never with much success. 
    Though Sunday Roast with Yorkshire Pudding and Chicken Tikka Masala are generally touted as the national dish(es) of England, Fish and Chips is every bit as popular as the other two.  During my time in England, I had Fish 'n Chips three times: once at a trendy sort of 'sports bar' type venue, once at a seaside, street-food 'chip shop', and once at the Magpie Cafe in Whitby.  The results were so-so, poor, and excellent, respectfully.  From what I gathered on my travels, and what I've read since in a number of British cook books, truly excellent Fish 'n Chips is often as rare in England as a top-quality burger is in the US, and many examples are rather mediocre.  As a result of questionable recipes and my own lack of experience with deep-frying, I've never made anything better than 'meh' Fish 'n Chips. Until today. 
     Credit must largely go to Jessi's Grandma S., who hooked me up with an awesome British cook book, The Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast, which already seems well worth the money if you're into classic British cuisine.  Since I was only frying a half-pound of cod, I cut the recipe in half, and then followed it exactly, except that I added 1/8 of a teaspoon of Emeril's Essence seasoning.  For 8-14 oz. of whitefish, combine

   -1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
   -1/4 cup cornstarch                  
   -1/2 tsp. salt                             
   -1/2 tsp. black pepper
   -6 to 7 oz. ale (preferably English...I used my home-brewed West-End Bitter)
   -1/8 tsp. Emeril's Essence seasoning blend

and blend thoroughly with a whisk, until it has the consistency of pancake batter (i.e. it pours easily, but isn't too thin or runny).  Heat canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pan to approximately 375.  Dip fish pieces (3" by 3" or 3" by 4" pieces with a thickness of 1" to 1.5" work very nicely) in the batter, preferably with a slotted spoon or large fork, letting most of the excess drip off, and fry until golden brown, generally 5-7 minutes or so, turning several times if the oil doesn't cover the fillets.  Don't overload your kettle or skillet, and keep an eye on oil temperature, trying to keep it above 360.  If you need to fry in batches, it's easy to keep cooked fillets warm on a plate (with paper towels, to soak up a bit of additional grease) in the oven.  Serve this up with these awesome baked steak fries, (simply seasoned with just a touch of Emeril's Essence) chopped short and thick for that 'chip-shop' look and serve, in proper American fashion, with tartar sauce and ketchup (I never could get on board for the traditional malt-vinegar treatment).

     In the end, this was really quite good, though I'm not sure I'll ever make something quite as stunning as the plate I had at the Magpie Cafe.  Part of that, I'm sure, is that they buy their fish fresh off the docks down the street, while I'm lucky to get halfway decent frozen cod.  Nonetheless, this was one of the better examples of Fish 'n Chips that I've had, and paired perfectly with a half-pint of homebrewed West-End Bitter, a hoppy, floral, low-gravity session bitter.  Happy birthday to me!

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