As a believe that the focus of the show at the chip shops is the crisp coating, it is not the fish. Felicity Cloake has a go at the question of a more palatable batter that flatters the former.
As I’ve previously admitted here, I was unable to try fish and chips in the proper way (by that, I mean that it doesn’t involve the word “finger”) until very late in life, mainly due to a shameful childhood distaste for fish and chips and a lot more because I’m a shambling middle-class person (coq au vin is a must, yes. Fried stuff, no.)
My first venture into the luscious rich fatty fug of the chips pie, I ordered a dish advertised as fishcake hoping for the typical apology potato puck. After the mysterious platter of butter and bread, as well as the mandatory teapot, I saw a petrified sea monster, the dimensions of an elongated stone, standing on solid batter legs. Its golden shell breaking was a revelation that was the sweetest of all.
The cake was a simple entrance drug. After getting drunk, the taste drips into the haddock. It became apparent that with chips and fish, the fish, when freshly cooked and fresh, is insignificant and merely a supporting actor to the show’s main focus: the crispy coating. And boy, have I had to make up for the loss of time. I’ve eaten at Chippies across Stonehaven up to St Ives, Dun Laoghaire to Dalston. I’ve attempted to fry any species of sustainably caught fish Hugh can throw at me, yet I’ve never learned the secrets of a professional batter.
The secret behind bubbles
Whether you’re a fan of Pollock, gurnard, or even a squid (or an entirely sustainable slab of cod) with skin, everybody agrees that a good batter must be light and crisp. This involves incorporating air into the mix. Two main ways to achieve this include a rising agent like baking soda or even yeast or mixing the batter using carbonated liquids like sparkling beer or water.
Rick Stein’s recipe for battered fish
As the owner of two chips, Rick Stein, who is expected to be aware of the issues he’s speaking about, uses baking powder that weighs a whopping 3 1/2 tsp to 240g flour. He uses cold water rather than any bubbly ingredients in the batter. It’s delicious and crisp; however, it’s excellent and isn’t very volume. However, The River Cottage Fish Book employs simple flour and beer that gives a similarly crisp, yet somewhat dry and dense; it appears as if the batter was just a bit over the top. (It offers a more pleasant flavor than Mr. Stein’s; however, the lager imparts an appealing, somewhat citric yeastiness that works well alongside the salmon.)
Gary Rhodes is a firm advocate for the thick batter. He wrote in Rhodes Around Britain that the most important thing to know about great cooked fish is “make sure the batter is very thick, almost too thick” so that as the fish cooks, it swells around it, ensuring it remains soft and crisp. “If it’s too thin, it will stick to the fish and become heavy.” He prefers self-raising flour (which contains less baking powder and flour) and slaked with the lager. Its consistency is lighter; it’s popped into a form that makes my soul swell, and the response around the table is much more positive.
Trish Hilferty’s recipe is battered fish.
Gastropub legend Trish Aidrty, who writes in Lobster and Chips her celebration of the fantastic connection between potato and fish and fresh yeast, makes her classic beer batter along with the beer named for it. It is required to sit for at least an hour before serving, at which point it’s been raised in a floppy manner, much like the dough of an over-full bread.
The batter has a unique billowy texture and is crisp and tasty, but it appears to have taken more oil than the other as we chew it slowly and try to pinpoint the taste. In the end, Anna hits the nail on the head with her prawn toast. It does possess a mild bready, yeasty flavor that, when combined with the oil, is distinct from the other prawns.
Like Rick Stein, Simon Hopkinson doesn’t use any raising agent in his recipe. This is evident in Roast Chicken and Other Stories, the recipe Simon Hopkinson claims “retains its crispness like no other” This is a claim that he attributes to the quantity of potatoes flour (a quarter of the amount of regular flour) in the recipe instead of the half pint of beer.
Simon Hopkinson’s recipe for battered fish
I’m thrilled about the flour made from potatoes. It’s the kind of thing that would be considered trade secrets, but disappointed with the result. That is spongy and a bit grainy. The tasting team, which is already shaky, pushes it through their plates with a smile.
Is it best to lie down?
River Cottage, Trish, and Simon Hopkinson insist on resting their batter before use for a minimum of two hours which is understandable in the case of Trish because the yeast needs to be allowed time working. Still, they also have the largest batters, with the highest density. It is believed that effervescence reduces with time. This is the reason Heston Blumenthal conserves the batter within the soda siphon.
It is essential to allow a Yorkshire pudding to rest before baking is supposed to allow the flour to absorb the liquid, but in this case, it’s a bit counterintuitive. We’re trying to find the rise of the pudding, not moisture.
The order of the ceremony
Gary Rhodes’s recipe is battered fish, pre-floured (left) and not pre-floured.
Gary advises you to make the fish flour first and dip it into the batter, like Simon. If your batter’s thick enough, then this shouldn’t be needed in reality; whenever I make it using Rhodes’s recipe, I get an edgy, thick result that is a favorite with Alex, who is said to have a slightly sour taste for the fried fish.
Simon’s batter is thin that the flour addition is required to keep any food off the fish, but it gives a strangely textured appearance and taste. It’s also a little crumby.
The big chill
The advice to Matthew Silk, co-owner of 149 in Bridlington and the current owner of Fish & Chip Shop of the Year title, and the brave one who allowed Jay Rayner to lose behind the fryers, says that the batter must remain “seriously cold, say 6C, so that when it hits the fat at 185C the reaction happens.” This aligns with Rick Stein’s idea of using ice-cold, cold water. I’ve tried Gary Rhodes’ recipe with chilled flour and cold beer and have a better outcome: it’s incredibly light—the perfect recipe to soak into vinegar before serving with the mushy peas.