Fish and chips may be an English classic but when I worked with tourists I realised people from all around the world love it. It was our top selling dish with Americans, Asians and Europeans alike. I always recommended it to Peruvian customers and they loved it too.
In Peru, creating English food presented some real challenges. I must have tried to make Yorkshire Pudding 20 times but they never worked due to the altitude. There were a number of difficulties in producing great fish n chips, obtaining fresh fish being the most tiresome. I was also not satisfied with our batter, it was not crunchy enough. We had to make batches and then use it through the day so by the last few fish there were no bubbles left from the beer. We used bottled beer and so had a minimum amount of batter for each batch which we made which was enough for around 8 portions of fish. Keeping waste to a minimum is an important part of managing a commercial kitchen so I wanted to find a way to make the batter crispy each time without throwing it away after a few hours & starting again. Heston Blumenthal had the answer.
While researching I came across an episode of his tv show In Search of Perfection. He was figuring out how to make the best fish & chips. It was a revelation and helped me devise a batter recipe which massively improved our fish.
I know lots of people are turned off by the likes of Heston & his molecular gastronomy but lots of his work has practical implications for the home cook. We ate at the Fat Duck years ago & I can still remember that meal/feast in detail, it was phenomenal. Heston uses an incredible array of research techniques to understand how cooking works & why some things work better than others. As a geek I find this interesting and as a cook I have come to really appreciate his little tips & tricks. His series In Search of Perfection is a treasure trove of useful knowledge and I recommend it to anyone who loves to cook.
Becky suggested I share this recipe as it was extremely popular with our customers and it is easier than Heston’s version. I have to give him full credit though as all I did was tweak his recipe to make it practical in our small, busy kitchen. I couldn’t use his version as it uses some ingredients which were expensive in Peru, I would have had to triple the price of the dish. Also he uses a soda syphon to create bubbles which was not practical for us.
I also learned from Heston that you can use the same technique which some tempura chefs use to get layers of batter. Once the fish has started frying adding drizzles of batter to the surface gives amazing puffy, crispy results. This also leads to a bounty of scraps. These are the little bits of batter which float off into the oil & become really crispy. In chip shops you can order scraps as a side, my sister loves chips & scraps more than fish n chips.
This recipe is all about the batter. Use it for whatever you like. I use haddock when in the Uk for fish & chips as I do not like cod but any white fish is fine. We also used to batter sausages & Mars Bars with this recipe. I was amazed at their popularity as I thought fried chocolate bars was a disgusting idea – until I tried it. Battered chocolate tastes like a do-nut & chocolate bar all at once, it is gooey, crispy, sweet, waistline-destroying genius (warning – if you try them make sure you have time to lay down for an hour afterward).
1. Use a cold liquid (you can even put the flour in the fridge to cool too) as it enters the oil there is a reaction causing the batter to puff up
2. A raising agent ensures bubbles & therefore, crunch
3. Corn starch slows the development of the gluten in the flour which causes sogginess
4. Paprika adds colour & makes the batter more golden
5. Using a tempura technique adds layers of crispy batter
Perfect Batter for Fish & Chips
Ingredients (x 6-8 portions)
Oil for frying (I use vegetable oil)
300g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
50g corn starch or rice flour
440ml cold lager
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder or bicarb
How to make perfect batter:
1. Get everything prepared. Take the fish (or whatever you are battering) out of the packaging. It is better if the fish is dry so pat it with kitchen paper & set aside. Sprinkle some flour on a plate ready to cover the fish. Start heating the oil.
2. Mix all the ingredients for the batter apart from the baking powder. The consistency should be quite thick, thicker than double cream. Don’t worry about lumps.
3. When you are ready to start frying add the baking powder to the batter & mix well. After a few seconds bubbles should start to form on the surface. Wait a minute or two until there are loads of bubbles and then you can begin.
If you are frying over a period of time you can keep adding baking powder to create more bubbles, add it a teaspoon at a time.
4. Coat the fish in a thin layer of plain flour – roll it in the flour & then tap & shake to get rid of the excess. If there is too much flour there will be a soggy layer underneath the batter but you need a little to help the batter stick to the surface of the fish.
5. Dip it into the batter & make sure it is completely covered & then straight into the hot oil. The temperature of the oil should be 160-170 degrees. If you don’t have a fryer or thermometer test it by putting a few drops of batter in. They should sizzle straight away.
6. After a couple of minutes when the surface of the batter is starting to brown use the whisk or a spoon to drizzle more batter onto the fish.
7. The cooking time will vary depending on how thick the piece of fish is. The one I made for these photos took 7 minutes & it is about one inch thick.
As the excess batter floats away & fries you should take it out when crispy or it will start to burn. It cooks quicker than the fish. Don’t throw these scraps away though, they are delicious.
Once you think the fish is cooked remove it from the oil onto some kitchen paper & pat it to take off the excess oil. Check the fish is cooked either with a probe or insert the tip of the knife into the middle, wait 30 seconds and take it out. If the knife tip is really hot the fish will be cooked through. Serve & eat quickly.