Mrs Bailey’s Salt and Pepper Fish
Happily, the girls under Mrs Bailey’s care eat such a healthy diet that nobody is going to look askance at the occasional deep-fried food. Especially if it’s fish, which is so very good for the brain; and doubly so when it’s as delicious as this. It may be that longstanding friendships have been imperilled over the struggle for scraps at the end of the meal — but I tell no tales out of school.
Once again, this came via a pupil from the Chinese community. The same batter and the same method works with any kind of seafood, as you’d expect — and honestly, if you chose to do so, you could perfectly well repurpose the batter for traditional English fish & chips.
For the batter:
60g cake or pastry flour, if you have it; if not, all-purpose flour will be fine
60g cornstarch (or cornflour, if you’re British)
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of, yup)
half a teaspoon salt (salt)
125g ice water (or more, for a thinner batter)
two egg whites (I use duck)
Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Now, in another bowl, mix the dry ingredients, add the water and mix to a paste. Fold in the whipped egg whites to make a pourable batter. Try it this way the first time, and decide if you’d prefer a thinner batter; if so, next time — and there will be a next time, yes — add a little more ice water.
Refrigerate till ready.
For the fish:
750g firm white fish fillets (cod is the Platonic ideal here, I find)
half a dozen garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
half a dozen hottish green chillies — serrano or thereabouts — sliced
I like to use a wok, for deep-frying. If you have another method, adapt at whim, but this is what I do:
Cut the fish into two-bite chunks, or thereabouts.
Put a splash of peanut or other vegetable oil in the bottom of a hot wok, and fry the garlic slices until they’re lightly golden. Remove with a slotted spoon, and reserve.
In the same oil, fry the chilli slices for a minute or so, then remove and reserve with the garlic.
Now add oil enough to come a third of the way up the wok’s sides. That’ll be plenty.
Heat to 375F, give or take. 360 would do no harm; you probably don’t want it hotter than 380.
Dunk a few pieces of fish into the batter — honestly, this is easiest done with the fingers — and lower them into the oil. Fry, turning occasionally with the slotted spoon, until they are deep gold and crisp.
Fish them out, along with all the dribbles of spare batter that have fried alongside (these are the scraps, of course, that the girls fight over), and stand by to do it all again.
Some authorities recommend transferring this first batch to a low oven to keep warm until you have fried all the batches and can serve all the fish at once. I am wholly against this practice, for they are best straight out of the wok and onto the table. So:
Put the fish and the scraps on a plate, scatter with generous amounts of coarse salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, add a handful of the garlic-and-chilli slices, and let your guests dive in while you prepare the next plateful. And so on, until all the fish is gone, alas.
…Oh, and you can totally keep the oil (in a lidded container, for preference) for next time. I tend to use it three or four times before changing to fresh. Remember not to bottle it up until it’s cool.
You can find more of Mrs Bailey’s recipes here: