I’m not usually a huge fan of traditional fish & chips. I love fried fish and fries – but I generally find the more traditional batter to be a little bit tasteless even with the vinegar. Emily pretty much only likes her fish grilled or baked, so this was another one I’d be eating by myself.
Like most guys, I love deep fried foods. I don’t do a whole lot of deep frying though – just because it’s kind of a pain in the ass. I used to have a small electric fryer, but it mysteriously disappeared when the ex moved out. Since then, I’ve always just filled a pot with oil and used that. It’s not optimal, but it works.
The key component to this fish, of course, is the batter. This is a beer based batter. Digging around in the fridge, I found a bottle of dark & tan Yuengling that someone left here at one of our parties. I’m not going to drink it, and Emily definitely isn’t going to drink it – so in it went.
The grocery store didn’t have any light fish last time I made fried fish and I had to use halibut. This time, they had no halibut, and I had to use a lighter fish. The book specifically advises not to use tilapia unless you hate fish, but the website lists it as one of the main options. I ended up using catfish.
While the batter set up, I started prepping the potatoes for their first fry. I wish I had started the oil heating up when I started this, but I had to leave the oven off for bird safety as it was almost Ivy’s dinner time. Using the mandoline, I carefully cut up the two potatoes. The website says to use four potatoes – but the same amount of fish. The two potatoes made more than enough chips/fries – four would have been way too much.
As the oil came up to temperature, I took the chips out of the water soak. We don’t have a salad spinner, so I just let them rest on a cooling rack and then dried them out with a paper towel as best as I could. It’s not as good as the spinner, but it worked OK. With the oil up to 320, it was time for the first fry.
The instructions say to let them fry until they’re pale and limp. Well, they were already pretty pale – so I had to just go on the whole “limp” thing. It said it should take about 2-3 minutes. I nudged the chips around while they fried – trying to test their “limpness” – but they never really seemed limp. At about 3 minutes, I called it, and just pulled them out. Once they were on the cooling rack, I poked at a few – they were pretty limp. Thus, we happen upon one of the most important rules when frying things: food never looks done when it’s actually done.
After doing the rest of the chips, it was time to batter and fry the fish. I jacked up the heat on the stove to get the temperature up to the required 350 and put in the first few pieces of fish. This is when I wished I had used the noted amount of oil. The book doesn’t explain this, but Alton talks about it in the episodes: having a lot of oil helps the temperature from losing too much heat when you add foods into it. Because I used too little oil (about a quart and a half), and used an aluminum/steel pot instead of a cast iron dutch oven. Add in the fact that I’m using an electric stove that is really fidgety when it comes to heat control – and you end up with a real pain in the ass when it comes to keeping a steady temperature when frying. With a lot of minute adjustments, I managed to keep it near enough to the target temperature as best I could – and fried the fish for the roughly 2 minutes that the website instructed.
The book said to fry until “golden brown and delicious”, but if frying has a second rule, it’s that “golden brown and delicious does not mean cooked all the way through”. Sure enough, they were not. At roughly 2 minutes, the fish was technically cooked – but only barely. I love sushi – but fish either needs to be completely uncooked or completely cooked – there’s no middle ground here.
Finishing the rest of the fish, it was time to re-fry the chips. Crank the heat again – getting the oil up to 375. Fry the chips again – again, frying until “GBD’. This one was a little easier to check. In theory, the chips were already cooked from the first frying. This was more about coloring. Once they had a good coloring, they came out to drain and rest.
First up was the fish. The recipe’s cooking time was off. This seems to be a recurring motif with Alton’s recipes. Granted, this may have been because I was having trouble keeping the temperature exactly right – but make sure you test the fish and make sure it’s cooked all the way through.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not usually a big fan of fish & chips – and I’m still not. The malt vinegar that I used (it was seriously the only one that our grocery carried) helped make it tastier than any other fish & chips I’ve had before – but that’s not saying a lot. The batter itself is less flavorful than a corndog batter – and that’s saying a lot, I think. If I had had some tartar sauce, I may have liked this more, but oh well.
The chips.. or as we call them here – the fries – were a lot better – but seriously lacked seasoning. The only seasoning that these fries had was some finely ground kosher salt (run through the food processor). They weren’t bad, by any means – but they were very plain and uninteresting. Add in some garlic and paprika to give them a little oomph.
Really though – adding garlic or red pepper flakes seems to be my answer to everything. I may have a problem.
In the end, though, I really wouldn’t make the fish again. It’s just too bland and boring. I might make the chips.. or fries.. again – but probably only if we were entertaining. It’s really too much work just for one or two people.