As my cousin’s van rattled through the English countryside, I debated whether the Pennines should actually be referred to as “mountains”. My contention remains to this day that any “range” topping out at elevations of less than 3,000 ft really shouldn’t hold the same distinction as the glorious caps of the Cascades that dominate the horizon around me. Mount Rainer takes my breath away every single time.
As my cousin’s Wimbledon accented voices extolled the virtues of rolling hills dotted with ancient churchyards, the van crept to a stop at little more than a shack perched at the edge of a moss laden slope. It was here, standing along the roadside overlooking the softened ridges and dipping valleys of the Pennines, that I began my lifelong love affair with fish and chips.
A newspaper wrapped bundle holding fried seafood and British chips was thrust into my hands. Faint spots of grease spread rapidly into slicks covering the whole paper as I took the first heavenly bite of flaky, perfectly crisped cod, the juice running down my hands, steam wafting in the cool mountain air. It was a perfect food moment.
It is against this first experience with fish and chips that all seafood restaurants must compete. Not surprisingly, I find baskets of poorly breaded fish and soggy fries unequal to the memory. I took matters into my own hands recently, and the crispy, grease laden result transformed my American kitchen into an English countryside.
The batter for this fish starts with beer. Obviously that means it’s going to be divine. Because, beer. Add just enough flour and spices to turn it into a batter. This fish is triple seasoned. Once straight on the fillets, once from flavor in the batter and finally into a seasoned flour dredge. Aside from that, it’s very uncomplicated. Dip, dredge and fry. Boom. Golden perfection.
The outside is crusty golden deliciousness and the inside is perfectly flaky, tender and melt in your mouth gloriousness.
The simplicity of this recipe makes me wonder why my quest for nostalgic crispy fried fish has been previously unsuccessful for decades. Wow, I’m old. Maybe it’s because a great meal experience is so much more than just the sum of its ingredients. Perhaps, just possibly, the bliss of that little English fry shack was about more than just the greasy newspaper wrapped lunch. Imagine that. It’s people who make lasting indelible memories. Gather your family around for a perfect fish fry and make some magical food moments of your own.
Beer Battered Fish
adapted from Paula Deen
1 (12 ounce) bottle of beer – I used Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon house seasoning (recipe below)
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
salt and pepper
In a large bowl, pour in 1 bottle of beer. Sift 1 1/2 cups flour into the bowl, whisking in gently until just combined, stir in 1 teaspoon House Seasoning and Old Bay Seasoning. Pat fish dry and season on both sides with salt and pepper and coat the fish in the beer batter. Mix together the other 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 tsp house seasoning. Dredge the pieces of fish in the flour mixture and slide into oil as coated. Fry fish, turning over frequently, until deep golden and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Fry remaining fish in batches, returning oil to 375 degrees F between batches.
Serve fish with French fries.
House Seasoning (I scaled this down using teaspoons — I didn’t need a whole cup of it)
1 cup salt (2 teaspoons)
1/4 cup black pepper (1/2 teaspoon)
1/4 cup garlic powder (1/2 teaspoon)
Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.