The quintessential British dish and sold just about everywhere. Why then is it so hard to find a good version? I am positive it has something to do with with the British perception that our national dish should only cost a few quid. Perhaps this is historic. I'm getting ridiculous images in my mind of 1920's children in poor Northern mining towns, eating only once every two days and looking forwards to a steaming bag of chips and a scrap of fish bought for a hard won shilling. Of course nowadays the take-out food market covers the gastronomic globe. It all costs more than fish and chips but we don't bat an eyelid.
Lets take pizza for example: a 9.5 inch cheese and tomato pizza from a well known brand (beginning with a 'D') costs £7.99. Bread, tomato and cheese - the raw ingredients cost nothing. A standard cod and chips at my local costs £5 - for a good portion of cod.....and loads of chips........you could barely make it yourself for that price. And herein lies the problem. Corners are cut, fish is bought in frozen from who knows where, batter is from a pre-mix powder, the frying oil is not as clean as it could be.
You gets what you pay for. To be the best, fish must be fresh not frozen. Local and sustainable fish is also a possibility for a few pennies more. So next time you find a really great fish fryer who is cooking - to order - day boat caught Cornish Whiting, please support him. Give him your pizza money and enjoy a real British treat done right.
You will need a deep fat fryer for this - you can use a chip pan but I find the result inconsistent and they are dangerous. Buy one second hand, they don't cost much. You may also want some chips with your fish. Look here to see my musings: http://nuevacocina.blogspot.com/2011/08/chips-bearnaise.html
Skinless pollock fillets - 2x200g (not too thick or thin, ask for cuts from the centre of the fillet)
150g Plain Flour plus 50g for dusting
250ml room temperature ale or lager
7g sachet dried yeast
Egg yolk - 1
150ml vegetable oil plus more for deep frying
Capers - 25g
Gherkins - 25g
Tarragon - 1 small bunch
Dill - 1 small bunch
Lemon juice - a big squeeze
Mix 150g flour with the yeast and beer. Beat until smooth then set aside for 1/2 hour to ferment. Take your fish out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature - this ensures the fish cooks at the same time as the batter.
Meanwhile make your tartare sauce. Beat the egg yolk with the lemon juice and a generous season of salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil whisking all the time to make a mayonnaise. Chop the capers, gherkins and herbs together until somewhere between finely and roughly chopped. Mix into the mayo, taste and correct the seasoning and lemon juice.
Heat your fryer to 180c and remove the fryer basket - you want to fry straight into the cooking well. Season then dust your fish with flour. Dip into the batter, allow to drain quickly then gently dip 2/3 into the oil carefully holding the other end of the fillet with fingertips. What you are trying to do is allow the batter to bubble and set so the fillet floats when you finally let go. If you drop the fish straight into the fryer, it may stick to the bottom. When the fish seems to be floating, let go and repeat with the other fish fillet. Turn the fillets after a few minutes and continue to cook until deeply golden - the whole process should take about 10 minutes. Drain your fish well and serve.