Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Sustainable Fish Supper

In my last blog, I talked about sustainable fish and the Big Fish Fight and how many fish and chip shops were passing off cheaper species as cod and haddock. And today I read some rather disturbing news about how a teacher in Leicester almost died from an allergic reaction after eating catfish from his local chippy - thinking it was cod.

Luke Marwell was left looking like Gordon 'Cabbage Patch' Ramsay when his face swelled and he struggled for breath. (Perhaps that's a bit unfair, but it did give me a chance to mention Ramsay, who this week denied he'd had plastic surgery, and came out with a bizarre explanation, saying his puffy face had been caused by an allergic reaction to a, er, horse. Strange that, because he didn't seem to suffer when he presented the F-Word with Janet Street Porter.)

Anyway, Marwell was taken to hospital and after tests doctors found he had been served pangasius - a Vietnamese catfish often passed off for cod. Marwell has now recovered but it may be some time before he heads back into a chip shop. "Next time I'll ask what the fish is," he said.

The National Federation of Fish Friers said: "We don't like pangasius, but it's cheap."

However, there are many cheap, sustainable fish you can batter instead that don't run up the food miles. Pollock is the best of the lot, I think. When I served it the other day to a group of pensioners who kept moaning on about how they only ate cod and chips, I didn't get any grumbles at all.

Pollock obviously has a different texture to cod and the chunks aren't quite as meaty or scalloped, but if you sprinkle a little salt on to the fillets and leave them for a few minutes they're pretty tasty.

Anyway, I thought I'd take you through the recipe because it's amazing how many cooks I've come across who can't knock up a decent fish supper. And it's a great way of cooking guilt-free fish like coley, pollock, whiting, black bream or pouting. Click here for a list of fish you should eat.

Sustainable Fish And Chips

To make decent chips, you need decent potatoes. Floury ones are best, like King Edward, Maris Piper, Romano and Desiree. Peel them and cut into thick chips. Then blanch them in a deep-fat frier at 130C for about eight minutes. They should be soft and pale by this stage, like this...

Turn the frier up to 180C, and plunge the chips back in for a few minutes until they are crispy and golden-brown. Shake off the oil and keep warm.

Skin the fish by gripping the tail, and pushing up a sharp knife at an angle of about 30 degrees (a thin filleting knife is easier, but you can get away with a chef's knife). This gets quite easy after a few thousand (if you've ever had the misfortune of working in a chippy like me), but the trick is to do it firmly and quickly without tearing the skin.

Then dip the fillets on both sides in seasoned flour.

Make the batter by putting plain flour into a bowl and whisking in a good real ale until you have the consistency of hot custard. Don't use lager - it's not the same, and you'll get kicked out of the fish-frying guild (or Masons, but that's another story). Add some ground white pepper and whisk again.

Heat the frier to 180C. Coat the fish in the batter and shake off any excess.

Lay the fish gently in the oil. Don't chuck it in because you'll get splashed, and the batter will come off the fish.

The fish should bob to the surface after a few moments. If it hasn't it maybe stuck to the bottom, so check.

Cook for about three minutes until golden and crispy. Serve with the chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce. By the way, this week I got quite a bit of stick about my tartare sauce recipe because it was 'sans capers'. I got it from an old Spanish chef who hated capers for some reason (and more to the point was an horrendous scrooge). His recipe works well enough, but if you can't possibly imagine an existence without capparis spinosa, then as they say in Thailand: "Up to you!"


Oisin Rogers said...

Love it. We find that the gassier the beer used, the better the batter blows. Try using a hoppy bottled ale like Youngs London Gold. Another trick is to use hard liquor in the batter, as the alcohol evaporates very quickly in the oil causing the batter to puff up beautifully. Your mate Ramsay uses whisky in the batter at The Warrington.

Lennie Nash said...

Hi there Oisin,

Thanks for that. Great tips on the batter! I've never used good hard liquor, only saki.

Completely agree with the fizziness factor. At Rick Stein's for the tempura batter for the squid on the bar menu, it was made by mixing cornflour and plain flour and adding ice cold sparkling water and szechuan peppercorns. Like you say the bubbles burst in the oil and created a lighter, crisper batter.

Getting hungry just thinking about it!

Take care landlord,


Keri said...

This is GREAT! Love your interesting writings, and the fish look fabulous. Love it. Thanks. Keri

Lennie Nash said...

Hi there Keri,

Welcome to the weird world of my blog! Glad you like it. I've just tried the batter recipe with frozen ling, but I think the pollock is much better.

All best,