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Fish in beer batter - recipe

File photo. Picture: Thomas Holder

File photo. Picture: Thomas Holder

Published Jan 13, 2016

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Cradock - In the climate I live in, beer warms up far too quickly. Right now, as I write, outside it is 37°C at 10am and promises to touch 40°C by midday. Tomorrow we’re experiencing 42°C, with no rain promised for yet another week after months and months on end with not a drop to nourish the farmland on which sheep and cattle graze.

Remove a beer from the coldest part of the fridge, crack it open and after the fourth glug the beer has warmed to a degree favoured by Englishmen who live in a cold climate and sit at fireplaces in pubs with sheepdogs at their feet.

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Warm beer is like scalded milk, its original promise lost. Warm beer is lame and tame, like a eunuch or a toothless lion. It’s no longer fit for purpose, obsolete, no good for anyone unless you want to ship it to England where there would be a ready market for it if the bottle had not already been opened.

Warm beer is the political firebrand cast into the wilderness when he has been shown to have feet of clay. Warm beer is the Hollywood child star who grows up to be a total wet whose agent can’t even land him auditions, let alone parts. Warm beer is the one-hit wonder pop band who, years later, go on family TV shows on which contestants try to guess who they once were (which they fail miserably to do).

You can wash your hair in it (the beer needs to be flat and warm). But warm beer doesn’t wash in the Karoo, so by the time the bottle is half empty I’ve lost interest in its contents. Half a lager does, however, have other uses.

Tenderise and marinate meat in it, adding flavourants of your choice such as garlic, onion, herbs and spices. Use beer bottles instead of beers to build a house or garden shed, pouring the contents of some of the bottles on to the ground surface all over the garden to get rid of snails (I have not tested this, but the theory is said to work). Make a beer bread, adding onion and a herb such as thyme or sage.

Or use beer to make a great batter for frying fish or vegetables such as broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, carrots or beans.

You could (if you were a hipster, say), use craft beer when making your beer batter, but you would be tripling the price of the batter with which you are going to eat your fish. Be my guest. It will, I’m sure, add a lovely depth of flavour to your batter, and it’s a good way to go if you’re planning some posh fish and chips for a party.

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Talking of which, anyone who’s tasted my mom’s chips will tell you they’re unmatchable and I am blessed to have been given her recipe. There’s no triple-frying involved, just some simple but important steps which, if ignored, spoil the chips.

Peel the potatoes then cut the chips fairly thickly. About a centimetre thick is about right, but the cross-side should be a little thinner. Lay out the chips on kitchen paper, and cover with more kitchen paper, patting down to absorb moisture.

Heat lots of sunflower oil in a deep pot into which your chip basket will fit. Strictly speaking the temperature should be 160°C, which is a moderate heat which will create a regular, gentle bubble.

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The chips must not cook in very hot oil, vigorously, which will make them burn quickly on the outside leaving the centre uncooked. I use number 4 on my stove, but stoves heats differ.

Lay some of the chips loosely in the chip basket, but not too many. An essential point is that the chips must be able to “breathe”, so do two or three batches rather than frying too many all at once.

Have a container ready layered with kitchen paper in which to drain the cooked chips.

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Take one chip and carefully dip it into the oil. There should be an instant issue of tiny bubbles.

If so, place the chip basket in and immediately shake vigorously to coat all the chips. This separates one from another so that you don’t end up with some stuck together.

Allow to cook at a gentle simmer until golden brown. Drain in the paper-lined bowl, salt and eat.

 

Basic beer batter

250ml (1 cup) plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

330ml beer

Salt and pepper to taste

Variations

Add one or more of the following to the batter. You can use one addition, or two, or three, such as capers, chilli and spring onion. Stir in just before coating the fish.

2 Tbs capers, or

2 Tbs finely chopped spring onions, or

1 Tbs finely chopped chilli (or less for a milder heat), or

1 heaped tsp turmeric (borrie) or ground coriander, or 1 heaped tsp masala (curry powder)

For the beer batter, sift flour and baking powder into a bowl, make a well, pour in the beer, season with salt and pepper, and whisk vigorously until it makes a smooth, fairly runny batter. If it feels too stodgy you can add a little more beer; if it’s too runny, add a little more flour and whisk again. If you’re only cooking for two or three people, use half of each ingredient.

Use the same oil in which you cooked the chips, but not the basket – if you put the battered fish into a basket, it will sink to the bottom and separate the batter into instant crunchy crumbles.

Keep the oil at the same temperature as for the chips. Coat fish fillets thoroughly in batter and slip into the water (not from a height). Fry until golden brown.

Drain and serve with lemon wedges and a few capers, or chop some capers finely and stir them into mayonnaise.

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