We may not have the broad repertoire of the Spanish or the delicate touch of the Japanese when it comes to fish, but you can’t get a better bit of batter than that from a decent British chippy – hot from the fryer, crisp and glistening, a golden sarcophagus for the gently steamed fillet within. If you’re somehow not within walking distance of one of these fine institutions, this recipe is the next best thing.
Prep 15 min
Cook 10 min
For the fish
400g plain flour
550ml very cold beer
4 pieces sustainable white fish (eg hake, haddock, cod, coley)*
Dripping or oil, for frying
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
For the tartare sauce
1 tbsp gherkins
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp parsley
½ tbsp chives
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 Prep the flour
Put the flour in a mixing bowl and put in the freezer for 15 minutes before you cook the fish, and, if you’ve forgotten to chill the beer in advance, put that in there, too. This may sound odd, but when cold batter meets hot oil, the change in temperature seems to intensify the reaction as the carbon dioxide in the beer bubbles up, making it extra crisp.
2 Prepare the fish
You can use just about any white fish you like, the more sustainable the better – the Marine Conservation Society has guidance on its website. Keep the skin on or remove it according to taste – it’s generally left on in the south; removed in the north – and check for and discard any small bones that may have been left in.
3 Heat beef dripping or oil
in a deep-fat fryer to 185C/365F. I like the flavour of the former, but it does have a rather pervasive smell, so if you’re sensitive to such things, or don’t eat beef, then a neutral oil will do just as well – you could even use extra-virgin olive oil if you like, as this is below its smoke point, but it will be expensive.
4 No deep-fat fryer?
You can use a large, heavy-based pan and a thermometer instead; make sure you fill the pan no more than a third of the way up with oil. If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a cube of bread in the oil to check the temperature: it should crisp and brown in 30 seconds.
5 Make the batter
When the fat is nearly up to temperature, stir the baking powder and half a teaspoon of salt into the chilled flour, then whisk in the cold beer to make a paste – don’t overmix or you’ll make the batter tough. Put this by the fryer or hob, along with a metal slotted spoon and a plate lined with kitchen paper.
If you’d prefer not to use beer, then you can substitute very cold fizzy water: the bubbles are the important bit, although the beer does give a good flavour. You may wish to add a pinch of sugar to make up for it, or indeed a pinch of mustard powder or some cayenne pepper if you’d like the batter to have a bit of heat.
7 Coat the fish
Dip the fish into the batter, one piece at a time, then, shaking off any excess, carefully lower into the hot fat and agitate the basket, or very carefully stir with the slotted spoon to prevent it sticking. You can do this two or three pieces at a time, but make sure you don’t overcrowd the pan or it will overflow.
8 Fry and drain the fish
Cook the fish for four to six minutes, depending on the size of the fillets, until crisp and deep golden in colour, keeping a watchful eye on it at all times: never leave hot fat unattended. Scoop out with the slotted spoon and on to the kitchen paper to drain before serving.
9 Tartare sauce
To make tartare sauce to go with the fish and chips inely chop the gherkins, capers and parsley and chives and mix into the mayonnaise, along with two or three tablespoons of the pickling liquor from the gherkins and the dijon mustard. Season, adding more of any of the ingredients to taste.