Sunday, 8 January 2012

How To Make Perfect Fish and Chips

Chips used to be a regular potato accompaniment to most meals in British households and every kitchen had a pan reserved for deep fat frying. But as our health-conscious selves grew up and we moved away from these fried foods the deep fat fryer became another kitchen gadget collecting dust on top of a kitchen cupboard. Now we've returned to desiring the comfort of traditional British meals but want it cooked better than the slightly burnt affair we put up with in our youth.

How to Cook Perfect Battered Fish

In the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada a white fish such as cod or hake is the most popular choice. In South Africa the kingklip fish is most common due to the vast supply. Select some quality fillets. Fresh is better than frozen but if you use frozen fillets make sure you thaw them thoroughly first. It's also important to wash the fish before battering.

This should be enough for two fillets but double it up if you are cooking for more. Once you've got the hang of the basic mixture you can experiment by adding different spices and choosing different beers. Some cooks prefer lagers (light beers) and some use dark stouts and bitters mixed with water. If you're unsure, use water for your first attempt. Another option includes sparkling water which can alter the taste too.

100g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large egg
200ml cold water or beer

1. Whisk all the ingredients together so you have a thick batter. Adjust measurements, if needed, to ensure it's not too runny.

2. Chill the batter in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

3. Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer to 190C/376F.

4. Stir the batter and pour into a shallow dish to make it easier to coat the fish. Dip the fish and ensure it is thoroughly covered and allow the excess to drain off. Do one fillet at a time. Gently place the fish in the hot oil and fry for 6-8 minutes or until the batter is crisp and brown.

Top chefs these days are proud to have fish and chips on their menus and Heston Blumenthal, more well-known for his scientific approach to cooking, has previously revealed an extra step in the cooking process to make "a glass-like crust and a soft, fluffy centre". You may have heard of the popular 'twice frying' method but Mr Blumenthal has added other stages to the process too.

How To Make Perfect Chips

Choose The Right Potatoes
There are many varieties of potatoes to choose from but you want to avoid the waxy types, such as Charlottes, Maris Peer and Jersey Royals. Choose the ones considered to be floury and with a more high-dry matter such as Maris Piper, King Edward and Desiree, or those marked as a good all-rounder such as the Australian Bintje. If you're not sure which type you've got, try putting them in a bucket of water and those with less dry matter will float.

Suitable potatoes
Groundnut oil
Table and sea salt for seasoning

Step 1: Preparation
Peel the potatoes and cut them into chips about 1.5cm thick (much thicker than American 'French Fries' and more like 'Home Fries'.)
As soon as they are cut, run them under the cold tap for about 5-10 minutes to rinse off some of the starch. Drain well.

Step 2: Boiling
Get a large pan of water boiling (you can add a little salt or not, your choice) then add the chips and bring it back to the boil. Keep an eye on the chips as you want them simmering gently, and not boiling fiercely, for about 10 minutes. They are ready when a knife can go in them easily.

Step 3: Drying and Cooling
Remove the chips with a slotted spoon and place them on a rack to drain and cool down. Once cool move them to the fridge to get properly cold. They will harden when chilled. The reason for this stage is to remove more moisture that would make for soggy chips when fried.

Step 4: First Frying
For best results, cook the chips in batches. Use groundnut oil and heat your deep fat fryer to 130C/250F. Plunge the chips for 5 minutes but remove them as they start to colour. Drain them on a rack and allow to cool before returning them to the fridge. If needed, you can leave the chips in the fridge overnight so the final stage is done before serving.

Step 5: Second Frying
Reheat the oil to 190C/375F and plunge the chips for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Drain and season with table and sea salt.

Fish and chips are best served with a lemon wedge for the fish and malt vinegar and tomato sauce for the chips. Enjoy!

Laura Porter for ISIC-IT. She writes the London Travel site (which includes a list of the Best Fish and Chips in London) and is a regular contributor to the VisitBritain Super Blog. Follow her on Twitter at @AboutLondon.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Hangover cured by a hair of the dog?

We thought that as it is the big day after the heavy night before and we are feeling somewhat fragile, we would write this short blog about the need for "hair of the dog".
The phrase "Hair of the dog" comes from the medieval times when it was thought that after you had been bitten by a rabid dog, applying a hair from the same rabid dog on to the wound would save you from rabies!

Note that it is HAIR (and not hare) of the dog!

Today most people understand it as meaning a cure for a hangover. The theory is that by consuming a small amount of alcohol somehow helps reduce the aftermath of drinking too much the night before. The aftermath is a consequence of alcohol poisoning so perhaps, it works because by having a wee drink, you are topping up your levels of alcohol again and so you feel better. One of the most popular 'hair of the dog' drinks is a bloody mary...pure vodka and vitamin C to boost!

We are now off to try to see if it works. Happy new year to all