Put a group of anglers together and get them talking. Eventually, after sounding each other out, talking about PB captures, bucket lists, hot tackle, rigs and fishing spots, the conversation inevitably turns to how they prepare their catch.
It is fair to say that most anglers are fairly comfortable in the kitchen and understand good cookery principles. Enjoying the bounty of the ocean is one of the greatest pleasures, and preparing your catch properly helps to respect the fish you’ve caught.
Good, fresh seafood is best treated simply, and one of the classics would have to be fish and chips. Now, while you may think of the stuff wrapped in newspaper from the local takeaway as being classic fish and chips, in my experience that product can range from exceptional to being a cooking crime.
As anglers, preparation of this classic dish may take many forms; I have been fortunate to be around enough chefs and great cooks happy to share their fish-and-chips knowledge, and picked up some useful tips for turning out a great dish with a few twists.
The type of fish you choose greatly affects the result you get when making fish and chips. As a rule of thumb, the white fish species are generally best, especially those with flesh that doesn’t separate into large flakes when cooked. Try species such as snapper, gurnard, tarakihi and blue cod. The delicate blue maomao and smaller specimens of the spotted smoothhound are great, too.
Whatever recipe you go with, it starts with great ingredients, so preparation starts upon landing your catch. Quickly dispatching your fish and getting it on ice is the first step. My preference is to use a saltwater slurry that chills the fish quickly and lets the meat firm up or ‘set’.
I’ve heard that exposing fish to freshwater ice causes bacteria to break it down and spoil more quickly. While not entirely convinced by this, I still avoid having freshwater on my fish, just in case. Consequently, I freeze two-litre plastic bottles full of water, then put them in my bin with either saltwater flake ice or straight seawater.
It is important to clean and process your catch properly. I wait until my fish have set before filleting, skinning and boning them. Next, I wipe the fillets dry with paper towels and store them in an airtight plastic container. (Avoid having any blood or slime in the container, as this spoils the fish more quickly and taints the taste.) Interestingly, most serious fishos reckon fish tastes and cooks better after 24 hours in the fridge.
Interestingly, really fresh fish that hasn’t set properly tends to break up in the pan.
Now for the chips. Choose floury-type potatoes, such as Agria, as a good chip should be crunchy on the outside and soft inside. Cut your chips into chunky portions and parboil until soft, but not fully cooked, then let them cool and dry.
These days you have options with cooking styles. Deep-frying works well if you have a good deep-fryer and can control the oil’s temperature. Air fryers do a great job too, and offer a healthier option. I often wash the potatoes with the skin on, cut them into chunky wedges and, after parboiling (as with the chips), season them with lemon pepper and bake them in the oven.
Fish and chips always bring to mind fish served up coated in a crunchy batter. Achieving that can be challenging, but there are options that will deliver up to expectations. Batter mixtures that incorporate self-raising flour or egg can be doughy or cake-like. I tend to opt for a tempura-style batter, which is light and delivers on the crunch factor.
Once you have cooked your fish and chips, it is important to season it – flaky sea salt works well – and serve it quickly. Avoid covering either the fish or the chips, as the steam given off creates condensation that quickly turns crispy into soggy.
When serving fish and chips, it is nice to have some accompaniments to complement the dish. Serve fresh lemon wedges, malt vinegar and chunky tartare sauce. However, as we all know, a great tomato sauce can be hard to beat.
150g plain flour
10g baking powder
Ice-cold soda water.
Cook the fish in small batches in a wok or frying pan using oil with a high smoke point, such as rice bran oil. The oil temperature should be around 190 degrees Celsius.
It is also important to cut your fish into similar-size pieces to ensure even cooking.
Breading or coating fish with other ingredients is a far simpler way to achieve a crispy finish without having to deep-fry; a coating of any kind helps to keep the flesh moist. There are many great coating combinations, but the process is pretty much the same.
You can simply dust the fillets in flour, dip them in beaten egg, then coat and pan fry. Japanese Panko breadcrumbs, with some white sesame seeds added, gives a really pleasing result, too.
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