Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Fine Kettle of Fish

Hey There!

This past Wednesday was my boyfriend Zach's birthday (yay!), and part of his gift was a homemade birthday dinner and dessert from your truly :) This year he requested one of his all-time favorite meals, a New-York style Fish Fry. It's interesting to note how many people seem to think of fish (fried or otherwise) as food that one would only order in a restaurant, or as take-out. This makes me sad. Fish is very easy to cook at home, and has many of the "blank-canvas" qualities of chicken, it can be as simple as salt, pepper and lemon juice, or any elaborate breading or batter you can think of. Fish also has the added advantage of cooking faster than chicken. For instance, if you are pan sauteeing fish, 2-3 minutes on each side should do it, as opposed to 6 minutes on each side for chicken.
I cannot tell you how many times I've heard "but fish is so expensive", and honestly, I don't consider that a valid excuse. Shopping for fish is like shoppingfor anything else, watch for sales, check out different markets to see who stocks what and at what kind of prices. Also, many larger farmer's markets have a fishmonger (I know for a fact that there is one at both the Rochester Public Market and the Syracuse Regional Farmer's market), and since they probably stock primarily local fish, their prices will probably be more reasonable. There are also some decent flash-frozen optons too, just peruse the fish section of your local market. Personally, I do not advocate buying farm-raised fish, for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which being that farm-raised fish have much higher levels of mercury and other toxins, but obviously, what you buy is your choice. Personally, I buy wild-caught fish whenever possible. Is fish a practical option for dinner every night of the week? Probably not, unless you can see the ocean from your house, but I definitely think that there is room in the typical grocery budget a few times a month. For example, I bought enough fish to make dinner for seven people for under $35, no lie. Dinner for seven people for under $35, that sounds pretty reasonable to me :)

So here is my recipe for Battered Fish, originally inspired by Ina Garten in her *Barefoot Contessa Family Style* Cookbook.

Battered Fish Fry

-3 1/2-4lbs fish fillets (I use haddock, but cod is great too)
-Kosher Salt
-Freshly ground black pepper
-2 cups plus four tablespoons all-purpose flour
-2 tablespoons baking powder
-2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
-4 extra large eggs
-Vegetable Oil (I use canola oil)
-2 cups of water

-Lay fillets on cutting board or large tray, Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Cut fillets in half or into thirds depending on how big they are. Try to make the fillets as uniform in size as possible.
-In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, one and a half tsp. salt and and 3/4 tsp. pepper. Stir together dry ingredients with whisk.
-Whisk in water, followed by eggs.
-Pour about 1//2 inch of oil into large, deep frying pan or skillet, and heat oil to about 360 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, try this trick: Stick the tip of a wooden spoon into the oil, if small bubbles spring up quickly around the tip of the spoon, the oil is ready.
-Dip each fillet into the batter and let the excess drip back into the bowl. Place fillet very carefully into the pan. Remember not to crowd the fillets too closely in the pan, otherwise they will steam, not fry.
-Cook the fish on each side for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through. Removed coked fillets to a platter, tray or plate lined with paper towels.
-Sprinkel with salt, serve hot with french fries and your favorite condiments.

- If, during frying, the oil begins too bubble to quickly, turn the heat down, if it is not bubbling enough, turn the heat up
- After making this fish fry a few times, the best advice I can give you about when to turn the fish is to think of the fillets like pancakes. If you slide your spatula under the fish to turn it, and the batter still feels sticky and won't yield to the spatula, the fish is not ready to be turned. If the spatula slides under the fish easily, it is ready to be turned.
-Do not be suprised if some batter falls off the fish while it's in the pan, it happens to me too and I'm in the process of figuring out how to correct it. It may because these fillets are pan-fried and not deep fried, further research is required.
-If fish isn't your thing, I see no reason why this batter wouldn't work on chicken tenders. Just make sure you've pounded them pretty thin, so that the inside will be cooked around the same time that the batter gets crispy.

And now, a bonus recipe!
Zach's Dad makes an AMAZING fish sauce, it's not quite a tartar, but has a similar taste. I don't have exact measurements for you, it's really more of a method, but try it, and I promise you'll be hooked (get it? Hooked?.........okay, moving on......)

David's Fish Sauce

-Mayonnaise (Preferably Hellmans)
-Sour Cream
-Chives (fresh, not dried)

-Mix equal parts sour cream and mayo in a medium mixing bowl
-add a few (about 4 or so) stalks of very finely chopped celery
and very finely chopped fresh chives
-add salt and pepper to taste
-Mix and chill thoroughly before serving.

Again, this sauce would taste good on chicken as well, and it would make a great all-purpose sandwich condiment.

Till next time:)

p.s. I apoligize for the lack of photos in this post, I'll remember to use my camera again next time :)

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