Fish and chips
Pretty much every coastal country town has a fish and chip shop, and more often than not one is indistinguishable from another – they were all built around the same time, are often painted blue or feature blue signage in a familiar script, and have some decorative buoys and fishing nets. Like country pubs, fish and chip shops get handed around among just a handful of operators. The shop is often a strong silent part of the community that seems to capture the laconic sentiment of Australia’s cultural identity.
One of my favourite places in the world is the Dunalley Fish Market in southern Tasmania. Its setting alone is like something on a postcard, but combine that with a fried basket of mixed small fish delicacies and it’s as good as life gets.
Every time I cook fish and chips I have the same thought – it’s effectively just two ingredients and that’s what I love about it.
This recipe sets about standardising one element of the process: the perfect chip. Once you have this under control the rest of the variables, such as fish variety and batter thickness, become a joy to experiment with.
For one reason or other, fish and chips is a meal not often cooked at home. Maybe it’s the idea of the pot of hot oil, or the convenience of the nearby shop. After we photographed this dish I sat down with the remainder of the beer from the batter and ate my afternoon’s work. It made a very pleasant early dinner, and it reminded me that I should make myself fish and chips more often.
Fish and chips
1kg potatoes (sebago are ideal)
2 litres oil, for frying
150g strong baker’s flour
about 250ml lager-style beer
extra flour for coating
salt and pepper
500g snapper fillets
2 tbsp dill, chopped
2 tbsp shallot, chopped
2 tbsp capers, chopped
2 tbsp dill pickle, chopped
1 lemon (optional)
Peel and cut the potatoes into chips as large as the potato will allow while maintaining consistency in size and minimising waste.
Put the chips in a pan of cold and generously salted water and bring to the boil over a medium heat. This is the most important step in achieving a fluffy and crisp fried chip. Boil until the chips are cooked through and the edges are just beginning to break down.
Strain the chips carefully so that they don’t fall apart, then let them cool in the strainer.
Once they are room temperature (about 20 minutes later), heat the oil in a large enough pot so that it is at least 10 centimetres deep. When the oil reaches 140ºC, gently submerge the chips in the oil and cook for six minutes on a medium heat that will maintain the temperature. Remove and drain the chips. Once they have cooled a little, lay them on a tray, loosely cover with a cloth and place the tray in the freezer for at least three hours or preferably overnight.
Prepare the batter by combining the flour and the beer with as little agitation as possible. The quantity of beer will vary greatly depending on the flour you use, so take the measurements as a guide only. The consistency needs to be viscous enough to coat the fish but not so thick that the batter becomes doughy. Prepare a flouring tray by generously seasoning some extra flour with salt and pepper and placing it into a shallow tray. Let the batter rest for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the fish. I would generally cut the fillets into fingers depending on what fish you use. For the snapper in this recipe I cut straight down the bloodline to remove the bones and then cut a fillet into three. I prefer longer fingers for small snapper, but this is where there can be some variation. For a bigger fish you can cut the fillets into thicker nuggets, use a thicker batter and fry it for longer. Place the prepared fish into the flour tray.
Make the tartare sauce by combining the mayonnaise with the chopped dill, shallot, capers and pickle.
Bring the frying oil up to 180ºC. Give the batter another quick stir to ensure it hasn’t settled too much, then flour the fish fillets in the tray. Dip the floured fillets into the batter and let the excess drop off. Gently slide each fillet into the oil by holding one-third in the oil until the fish can float. (If you just dump them in they can stick to the bottom of the pot.) Cook over a high heat for about three minutes until the batter becomes golden. Remove and drain on some paper towel.
Place the fries straight from the freezer into the oil and cook for four minutes. The time it takes for the fries to cook will allow the fish to rest. Place everything onto a plate, season liberally with salt flakes and serve with a lemon wedge if desired.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 19, 2020 as "Chip hooray".
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