SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE OF LOSING CHILDHOOD INNOCENCE AND MATURING FOOD-PHOBIAS, I’VE GROWN ESTRANGED TO THIS WONDERFUL THING THAT PRACTICALLY RAISED ME
I’ve been wanting to do a fried fish sandwich for some time now. In fact, it’s strange even to myself that it has taken me so long, considering that battered fried fish, from both the perspective of nostalgia and deliciousness, holds a very special place in my heart.
Myself, circa 1992, fresh off the boat in Vancouver and practically English-illiterate, this was one of the very first introduction I had into the then-completely-alien world of western food culture. Once in a while, friends and families would make a special night out of dinning at the New England-style seafood restaurants lining the river-port, for this was a scarce enjoyment where we came from, and for me, watching the seagulls pirating scraps off of the table, it served a foreign exhilaration of this new place to call home. Back then, with the inability to understand the menu, a dinner in a place like this would almost certainly meant having the same entree over and over again, and that was, yes, fish and chips. A funny dish that, I was told, the child I was should really appreciate. To be honest, I can’t really recall what the dish tasted like. Eating, for who I was at the age 12, was not a priority in the purposes of life. But the premise of those memories, the silhouette of those evenings, I will forever hold dear. Then, perhaps taking the theory of all-kids-love-fried-fish a bit too far, for quite a while, my breakfasts were often times, if not persistently, fried fish-sticks that my mom homemade from the supermarket freezer-section, served with ketchup. Now that, that I remember the taste of, and it tasted… delicious. Diss it all you want, but it was like a bun-less and sauce-less filet-o-fish burger from McDonald’s which, to me, was and still is considered a very fine thing amongst others. Hands down, for the first two decades of my life, it was (only marginally) the second-best thing from 6-pcs-of-nuggets. If the completely illogical fear after adulthood doesn’t exist – that somehow it feels much safer to consume meats than seafoods from this fine American institution – nowadays I would’ve ordered the filet-o-fish over the cheese burger, at least twice as often.
So I guess, in short, what I’m trying to say is, that I’ve had my fair share of battered fried fish in my days growing up, and I loved it. But somewhere along the line of losing childhood innocence and maturing food-phobias, I’ve grown estranged to this wonderful thing that practically raised me. And so I guess, more simply put, I want it back.
To do so, I set out to create an ultimate sum of this significant chapter of my childhood dinning experiences, but, greater than its parts. A sandwich that combines the classic elements of English beer-battered fish, sweet and tangy tartar sauce and herby butter-mashed peas, with the lunacy of sliced American cheese, and since I was already at the edge of a cliff, why not taking off with another layer of salt’n-vinegar potato chips in between to bring an extra element of crunch? An idea so wrong, that I was about to write-off with self-doubt right before a dear Instagramer from a little town known as, the Great Britain, left a comment. People here like putting “crisps” in their fish finger “sarnies”!, she said. Aside from the unexplained urge to forever call “sandwiches” as “sarnies” from now on, that also brought the much needed endorsement for my madness. It is done. After all, with what is both the home of fish’n chips, and the founding father of the establishment of sandwiches, who the hell am I to argue?
And thus, we arrive at this conclusion, one that even my 12-year-old-self would’ve assumed, well that can’t taste bad. And my friends, I was right to assume.
- 5 tbsp (75 grams) Hellmann's mayonnaise
- 1 1/2 tbsp finely diced pickle, or cornichons
- 1/2 medium-size shallot, finely minced
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup (140 grams) frozen peas
- 1 1/2 tbsp (22 grams) unsalted butter, room-temperature or soften
- 1 tbsp finely chopped freshly mint
- 1 tbsp finely chopped scallion
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Salt'n pepper to taste
- 1 fillet of firm-fleshed white fish such as cod, haddock or basa, about 8" long, 4" wide and 3/4" thick (20 cm x 10 cm x 2 cm thick)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour for drenching
- 3/4 cup (105 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (26 grams) cornstarch or potato starch
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground white pepper, plus more to season
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup (228 grams) pale beer, very very cold
- Canola oil for frying
- Ground cayenne pepper to season, optional
- 1 rectangular ciabatta bread
- 2~3 slices of American cheese
- Salt and vinegar potato chips
- TO MAKE THE TARTAR SAUCE: Evenly mix all the ingredients under "TARTAR SAUCE" together. Set aside.
- TO MAKE THE MASHED PEAS: Bring a small pot of water with a big pinch of salt to boil. Cook the frozen peas for a couple min until tender, then drain and submerge in cold water to stop cooking. Drain again, then transfer to a food-processor along with soften butter, fresh mint, scallion, lemon juice and salt'n pepper. Run until smoothly pureed and season with salt'n pepper. Set aside.
- TO MAKE THE BEER BATTER FISH FILLET: Add enough canola oil into a deep but narrow frying-pot until it reaches at least 3" deep, but with another 3" of room on top (there needs to be enough depth so the batter has room to puff, as well as enough room on top so the oil doesn't spill)(the narrower the pot, the less oil you'll need). Set over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 340F/170C, or when it bubbles up immediately around an inserted wooden chopstick.
- Meanwhile, cut the fish fillet length wise into 2 long strips, then cut cross the middle into 2 short strips. Season lightly with salt'n pepper (the batter's already salty so over-do it), then set aside. Prepare 1/2 cup of flour for drenching in a shallow dish, then set aside. With a fork, stir together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking soda, salt, ground white and black pepper until even. Pour in the very cold beer (if you measured the beer by volume, make sure it's 1 full cup without foam), then stir until it just comes into a batter. Don't overwork it and don't worry about little lumps of flour. The batter needs to be cold, so it's best to mix it right before frying.
- Drench the fish in the flour until thoroughly covered, lightly dust off the excess, then drench in the batter, flipping it over a few more times until thoroughly coated. Move the bowl near the frying-pot, then gently lower the battered fish into the oil. Do not crowd the pot. Flipping the fish once or twice, and fry until deep-golden browned on both side (the color should be almost like caramel). Drain well, then place over a baking-rack, and repeat with the rest. Generously dust the fried fish with ground white pepper, and cayenne if you want it spicy.
- TO ASSEMBLE: Slice the ciabatta across and toast under broiler until edges are crispy. In this exact order (to maximize the crispiness of fried fish), smear a good layer of mashed peas on the bottom, then a layer of salt'n vinegar potato chips, then the battered fish fillets, then the American cheese, then smear the tartar sauce on the other piece of ciabatta and place over the top. Cut across and serve immediately with extra mashed peas and a wedge of lemon.
If you're really not fond of frying, you can substitute with pan-fried fish fillet breaded with breadcrumbs.