TT Culinary Institute: Fish & Chips
"For the most part, it's cold and wet in the UK. So when you're handed a hot, paper-wrapped bundle of carbs and fat, what's not to like?" Anthony Rush, chef of Senia in Honolulu and British native, tells us. "Growing up in the West Country, I have many memories of fish and chips. Given that pretty much the whole coastline of Devon and Cornwall is dotted with tiny fishing ports, you'll find more chip shops than you will Starbucks."
Turns out fish and chips is a sentimental favorite among chefs. "I remember going fishing, and then cleaning the fish," JoElle Schramm, chef of the Red Lion Pub in Chicago, recalls. "Everyone would be outside laughing and enjoying each other and the day, then we would all make dinner together, and nothing goes quite as well with fried fish as some good and fried potatoes. I just remember everyone having fun, and that always brings a smile to my face."
However, you don't have to be from England (or a fisherman) to enjoy a platter of fish and chips. After all, is not tender fish in a crispy coating served up hot and fresh with fries a universal comfort? As we gear up for summer fish shack eating, we set out to master the ins and outs of deep-frying this classic at home (see the recipe). To do that, we consult with a few our favorite British chefs to get their tips and tricks.
For our fish and chips, we batter strips of cod in a beer batter before frying them to crispy perfection alongside thick-cut fries. All you need is a squeeze of lemon, dash of malt vinegar and plenty of tartar sauce, and you're set. Meanwhile, here's some advice right from the experts.
Size matters. These aren't your average fish sticks. Strips of white fish, such as cod or haddock, are traditionally used for the dish. We went with cod and cut them into five-by-one-inch strips, which we found to be the perfect size to ensure a crisp coating and a juicy, cooked interior. This fish should provide just the right amount of flavor to be distinct from the batter and the sauce.
Feel free to experiment with other fish: "Traditionally cod or haddock, but I love frying halibut and salmon." Rush says. "I love the meatiness of halibut and the clean flavor, but I also love the fattiness of the salmon."
Batter up. "My tip for first-timers would always be make sure you spend time making your batter the best," Jason Atherton, chef of the Clocktower in NYC, says. The batter itself is pretty simple: flour, salt, baking powder and beer. But the beer is key, as the bubbles make it light and airy.
And not just any beer will do. "To use a light beer I feel is a bit pointless; you may as well use sparkling water," Rush says. All of the chefs insist on a dark beer. We make ours with a brown ale, which also helps give a beautiful golden color to the fried fish.
Chip slip. The fries that accompany the fish are just as essential. "First, the type of potato matters; you don't want one that is terribly starchy or terribly waxy." Schramm advises. We use russet potatoes, and after hand-cutting thick fries, we rinse them with cool water to remove any excess starch before frying.
The trick to the perfect chips is frying them twice: The first time is at a low temperature just to blanch them and make them tender. Then they are drained and allowed to cool to get a bit of a "skin" on the outside of each fry. Finally, the chips are fried at a higher temp to reach a golden-brown crispiness.
Oh, tartar sauce. Once you have become a master fry cook, the only thing left is the tartar sauce. Mayonnaise is mixed with lemon juice, vinegar and tons of chopped herbs and pickles (we use parsley, cornichons and capers).
"Using good pickles that we also make here and fresh herbs really make a difference," Schramm emphasizes. "I add some lemon juice and zest to brighten it up a bit. The thing that makes the biggest difference is that we don't have a premixed tartar. Keeping the mix and the aioli separate until serving keeps everything fresh." This sentiment is shared by Atherton, who insists on adding herbs only before serving.
See? Pretty fly for a fish fry, if we do say so ourselves.
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