To cut the debate about which meat we were going to cook for the weekend, I felt like a change and fancied a ‘Fish Friday’ plate of British Fish-n-Chips with lashings of Tartare Sauce. Both the batter and the Tartare sauce are quick and very easy to make and superior (as usual) to the commercial version. Some years ago at the Annual British Business Forum meeting, the Crowne Plaza had set up a cooking station in the dining room and the whole meal was freshly cooked and memorable. Subsequently, at a Welcome to Kuwait Day at another hotel, it was announced that fish and chips would be available throughout the day. A colleague, who had sampled fish and chips for the first time in Edinburgh while volunteering at the Fringe Festival was keen to sample again what had become a favourite festival treat while assisting me to man the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah stand at the venue. Well, by lunchtime we were very much in the mood for the promised treat, which proved a great disappointment, the fish, instead of being fried and immediately served was lying in chafing dishes and were lukewarm, soft and oily. Of course, having the craving decided me to have a go myself and the rest, as they say is history.
As to the ‘Britishness’ of what could fairly be said to be one of Britain’s national dishes (Winston Churchill was a fan) has a surprisingly modern history; the earliest recorded fish and chip shop was opened in Bow, London by Joseph Malin, selling “fish cooked in the Jewish manner”.
By the early 20th century the popularity of fish and chips had spread throughout the country, helped by the expansion of the railway system in the 19th, ensuring the delivery of fresh fish to any town.
Frozen white fish fillets can be used or indeed fish from the fish market. Barracuda is a fine quality fish for the purpose as it has virtually little to no small bones and relatively cheap compared to hamour. In making the batter, beer (Barbican) or water make a crisper batter and milk, a softer, puffier result. A pinch of bicarbonate of soda gives the batter a more bubbly appearance. Choose whichever texture works for you.
4 fish fillets
200 g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (optional)
You may wish to marinate your fish in some garlic or lemon juice in the fridge. Once you decide to cook, mix flour, salt, pepper and bicarbonate of soda together, setting some aside to coat the fish before battering to gain better adhesion to the fish. Add your liquid, I use Babican – its Great, Man! (According to their advertisement of long ago). Any malt beverage will work, however. Then add the liquid of your choice and mix until you have a silky consistency to the batter. You want neither a cake mix or too runny a result. Make sure there are no lumps in the mixture. Coat the fish in flour and dredge in the batter. If using a deep fryer, set to 160 C, though pan frying works.
Either way you want a golden result. 6 to 10 minutes should do the job, depending on the thickness of the fillets; the frozen white fish fillets taking slightly less and a thicker barracuda steak being on the upper limit owing in part to a greater density in the flesh. Chips of course need to be prepared, when and how, rather depends on what equipment you have in the home. The author has an air fryer that takes about half an hour, so the chips are already on and nearly done by the time the fish is frying.
For me, the most wonderful accompaniment to fried fish (or seafood) is Tartare Sauce. John Lennon liked tomato sauce on his, well, that was up to him, but I like the herby interplay of tastes in my mayonnaise. The name comes from the French reference to the Tatars of Central Asia and of 13th Century lineage. In culinary terms it refers to piquancy, so pickled cucumber, capers and herbs are somehow involved.
Does one have to make mayonnaise from scratch à la Mrs. Clegg’s remark about Samantha Cameron’s use of Hellmann’s. In my book, what is good enough for La Cameron is good enough for me and a lot less nerve wracking and gets me to the table quicker. At the end of the day, the taste is in the combination of the above mentioned with lemon juice and whole grain mustard, so I am rather at one with the Jay Rayner school of making things easy as long as quality is not compromised.
3 tbs. mayonnaise
2 tsp. capers
3-4 crushed cloves of garlic
3 tsp. whole grain Dijon mustard
1 good fistful of dill
½ to 1½ lemon juice (depends on how big/juicy the lemons are)
½ gherkin or equivalent of cornichons.
Put all of the above – if using a substantial gherkin, roughly cut before hand – into a blender and blitz. All of lets say 20 seconds to get a semi-liquid paste. If you make too much and, the fresh made stuff does not keep, make more fish and chips or share with a friend!