Perhaps because I am packing my bags for London, everyone around my house has decided that fish and chips are a good idea for lunch today. I have a little bit of halibut as well as some fresh cod and I've decided to cook them both. Fish and chips are going onto the menu at our little café in Homer that opens in May, so it is good for us to get in a little pre-season practice anyway.
Our café, which is about the size of a broom closet, sits in front of a fish wholesaler who buys halibut, rockfish and other species from boats that pull into the harbor directly behind our buildings. All day and night, boats of various sizes and colors tie up to the public dock and offload their catch. Fresh fish immediately loads into big bins of ice and off it goes to market. With access to such fresh fish, how could we not add fish and chips to our menu? Our version includes double-fried potatoes, curry-scented batter, and sides of mushy peas and chutney. We also make our own ketchup.
To make good non-soggy French fries, we start by selecting a high-starch Russet variety of potato (there are about half a dozen varieties of high-starch potatoes grown in Alaska). We rinse thick-cut potatoes under plenty of cold running water to remove extra starch. Some people presoak potatoes in water as long as overnight. An important tip is to pat the potatoes completely dry before they go into the oil. Some chefs even air-dry their washed potatoes with a small fan to accomplish this. We use plenty of clean kitchen towels or paper toweling.
The next step is to fry the potatoes at a lower heat at first, remove them, pat them dry, and then re-fry them at a higher heat. This allows the outer crust to disperse any water in Round One and to crisp up nicely in Round Two. We start with high-heat oil like canola or other vegetable oil and heat to 325 degrees. We blanch the fries in the oil for about 4 minutes, then turn the heat up to 350-375 degrees and refry the potatoes a second time.
You don't have to use an electric deep fryer. Any deep casserole-type pot that can hold enough oil to cover the fries or fish will do but electric deep fryers are so convenient and have regulated temperature control, I recommend the investment if you do any kind of frying in your kitchen at all. We seem to always have at least one small-batch fryer in our kitchen that can deep-fry fritters or herbs or other garnishes and a larger, more sophisticated fryer for bigger jobs.
For fish batter, we moisten all-purpose flour and curry powder with a little beer (from Alaska, of course), and we add in whipped egg whites. This gives the batter a kind of crunchy sheen that we like. If you don't want to use beer, substitute 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1 cup of milk or other liquid to the recipe below. We add in a touch of curry powder for a flavor we like, but you could consider onion powder, garlic, paprika, cayenne or other spices.
Because we do so much Indian-style cooking, we make our own curry blend, but you can certainly buy curry powder in any store. If you would like a recipe for our homemade curry powder blend, just send me an email and I'll forward it on to you.
To make mushy peas, we just sauté some shallots and garlic in butter and add to fresh or frozen peas. We pulse the peas in a blender to mash them up, and we serve them hot with our fish and chips.
For our chutney, we prefer onion chutney in the winter and rhubarb chutney in summertime.
At lunch today, the cod seemed to be preferred, which is a good thing since it will be fresh and abundant in the markets from now all the way until May. I'll probably get lots of culinary inspiration on my trip to London and perhaps even try the local fish and chips while I'm there, but I know it just won't be quite the same.
Fish and Chips
Scrub the potatoes and cut them into thick wedges. Wash the potatoes well to remove extra starch from them. Pat the potatoes completely dry in a kitchen towel or paper toweling.
Pour the vegetable oil into a deep casserole pan or an electric deep fat fryer. Heat the oil to 325 degrees F. Blanch the cut potatoes in the oil until the potatoes are soft, but not colored, about 4 minutes. Remove and pat the potatoes dry. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F. and refry the potatoes until they are golden brown, another few minutes. Salt and set aside in a warm oven.
Mix together the flour, curry powder, and the beer, and then fold in the egg whites. Dip the fish in the batter. Lower the fish slowly into the oil (if you just drop it in, the fish might sink and the batter will stick to the pan). The fish should fry for about 4 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown. Drain the fish on plenty of paper toweling.
Makes 4 servings.
Kirsten Dixon is an award-winning chef who has cooked and lived the past 30 years in the backcountry of Alaska. To learn more about her, visit www.kirstendixon.com.