My mother made the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.
Since she died I’ve taken up the challenge but after a hundred or so attempts I don’t think my batter is quite as delicate as hers, Doris, are you listening up there on your cloud?
She always made her batter an hour or so before she started cooking.
She always sieved the flour.
She used no eggs, no milk only flour, water, pepper and salt, whisked up with a big old fashioned whisk (not the sort with gear wheels). I now have the whisk.
She always used lard to fry in, keeping two deep pans, one for fish, one for chips and straining the lard after each use.
Recently I interviewed One Fat Lady, the entertaining Clarissa Dixon-Wright who opined that lard isn’t as unhealthy because you can cook lard at a higher temperature than oil, therefore the material being deep-fried doesn’t absorb as much of the cooking fat.
I used to use an electric deep fat fryer. Thankfully it died. Now I shallow fry in about and inch and a half of oil in a large black iron frying pan and get much better results. The higher temperature at which I can fry really seals in the flavour, keeps the batter crisp and quickens up the operation no end.
For what it’s worth, here are my own conclusions.
Batter mixture – flour, peppper and salt, although it’s nice for a change to include a pinch of Chinese five spice powder or cumin (powder or seeds) in the mix or, sometimes, finely chopped dill or fennel. Water used in a batter mixture should be really cold, keep a bottle in the fridge. I have three basic batters:-
Tempura style batter. Sieved f lour, water, pepper and salt seasoned, whisked to the consistency of single cream.
Fish or Fritto Misto batter. As above, but whisked to the consistency of double cream.
Batter for aubergines, zucchini etc. Beat to double cream consistency then add a little more flour and whisk again. Aubergines hold a lot of water, which prevents thin batter adhering.
I always fry in peanut oil. Corn oil will do. Olive oil is not suitable as it starts to fragment and smoke at a much lower temperature.
Drain the fish, vegetables or whatever onto kitchen roll. If you are frying a fair quantity the food will keep reasonably crisp on a greased baking tray on a high oven, providing the separate pieces do not touch.
Sift 2 – 3 ounces of plain flour through a sieve. Add a flat dessertspoon of powdered cumin to two ounces of plain flour. Add water and beat to a light batter, about the consistency of double cream. Add a touch more flour and beat again.
Slice a large aubergine into rounds. Dip in beaten egg and then into the batter. Shallow or deep fry in hot oil (peanut or corn is best) a few at a time. Keep hot in the oven by covering with layers of kitchen roll.
Great with pasta, particularly farfale or orichete
Packs come in various sizes, usually around six to eight ounces. Not cheap but you don’t need much. Farmed venison doesn’t have the gamey taste of wild deer.
Mushrooms should be wild if you can get them. Otherwise strong flavoured (paris browns – look like button mushrooms but darker) are better than the anaemic, fairly tasteless ones but they will do at a pinch. The mixed batches sold in supermarkets are a bit of a rip-off.
1 packet farmed venison steak
flour, seasoned with freshly ground black or szechuan pepper
1 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh tarragon
240ml carton of cream
Slice the venison very thinly and roll in seasoned flour. If you have szechuan pepper, use that instead of black. Slice the mushrooms.
Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry the venison for 3 – 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, fry a further two minutes. Add the tarragon. Add the sherry and stir the pan until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Stir briefly then stir in the drained pasta and serve.
“How do you roast a chicken?” is the question food writers are most frequently asked. Considering the little cluckers have featured in our diet for so many years, you’d think people would know. My answer always starts with “first buy your chicken”, for the quality of the bird is the biggest factor in determining whether you dine on succulent fowl or blotting paper. I don’t eat battery birds, I buy from my local butcher – and I know where he gets them so the ‘free range’ appellation is no con. Sure, I pay a bit more but so what, a e10 free-ranger yields six decent portions, leaving enough on the carcass for a nourishing soup. For years I whacked the oven up high – 240°C/gas 9, stuck a knob of butter and an onion inside, rubbed the skin with sea salt and stopped the clock on 70 minutes. It worked just fine. But then I took a holiday in Tuscany…
Now I preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6, chop up a lemon and stuff it inside along with a couple of sprigs of rosemary and two cloves of garlic, unpeeled cos life’s too short for peeling garlic. I rub sea salt and black pepper on the skin, truss the bird with string and roast for 90 minutes. I’m lucky enough to have a rotisserie, but it works equally well on a rack in a conventional oven. The Italians call it pollo al’limone e rosmarino. I call it tasty.
Would you pay e28 for a bit of braised Babe’s bonce?
Towards the back end of last year The Irish Times restaurant correspondent paid e28 (that’s £22 old money) at a Dublin restaurant for a starter of braised and pressed pigs’ head. What a significant comment on the new Ireland! I well remember my mother and grandma braising and pressing pigs’ heads, ox tongues, rabbits etc as part of a culture of not wasting things and out of the need to survive in recessional times. Subsequent generations were too time-pressured, maybe too lazy to process these cheap and tasty cuts and anyhow they could afford steak and battery chicken so why bother? Now things have gone full circle and those who can afford e250 for dinner for two eat pigs’ heads pressed by other people, forking out e28 a portion for the privilege. E56 for an item any butcher will give you for the asking. As a starter!
I’d put money on it that if any of us presented pressed, braised pig’s head, however tarted up, at a dinner party there would be no takers. But if the restaurant has a Michelin star, the chef has a reputation and the price is high enough, hey, it’s suddenly a tour de force. Crazy world.
That same summer I was in Brittany eating, err… cow’s intestines. They were stewed in Calvados with fresh herbs and tomatoes, delicious, and they certainly didn’t cost e28 a plateful. I also came across a rather delicious prune cake called Far. For those of you who are fed up of reading about the dodgy bits, here’s the easy recipe.
FAR AUX PRUNEAUX
24 stoned prunes
2 tbsp rum or brandy
1 litre milk, lukewarm
1 tbsp salted butter, flaked
Soak the prunes in the rum or brandy for 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 225°C/450°F/gas 7. Sieve the flour into a bowl, mix with the sugar and salt. Make a hollow in the centre, add the eggs and beat to a smooth, thick batter consistency. Slowly add the milk and butter. Generously grease a baking tin with butter, spread the prunes on the bottom and pour in the batter. Bake for 10 minutes then lower the oven temperature to 170°C/340°F/gas 4 for a further 10-15 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the batter cooked (test with a skewer) but still firm. Serve lukewarm.
Makes approx enough to fill two nine inch flan dishes or one deeper tin.
The Chinese call 2003 the Year of the Goat. Foodies will be calling it The Year of White Balsamic Vinegar. Every year there’s a new sexy ingredient – remember rocket, the sun-dried tomato, the kiwi fruit? White balsamic is the new black and chefs everywhere are mixing up their own secret potions, combining it with single estate extra virgin or walnut oil in slick salad dressings or mixing it with stock, wine and herbs and reducing it to a sticky ‘jus’. Balsamic vinegar is just what it says – wine vinegar that’s been infused with the herb balsam. Usually it’s caramelised and aged in oak casks – the longer the ageing, the more expensive. White balsamic hasn’t been given this treatment, so it’s colourless – important if you don’t want your reduction to end up looking like Marmite – and more fragrant.
You might like to try this: chop a shallot or small onion very fine. Fry it in a spot of olive oil, just until it changes colour. Add 3 tablespoons of grape or apple juice, 2 of white balsamic (or white ) vinegar, a tablespoon of honey, half a chicken stock cube, a sprig of thyme or rosemary and a cup of water. Boil until it reduces by half. Strain and serve with robust meats such as pork, venison or one of the excellent French guinea fowl that cost not much more than a flabby battery chicken.