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Fish in beer batter

What makes a good batter? What creates that crisp, savoury, golden coating that seals in all the moisture of the fish it covers? The answer, or at least one answer, is beer. It not only contributes a wonderful lightness to the mixture but adds flavour, too: a nutty, wheaty edge to the crunch. But beer isn't the only important element. A good batter also needs to have the right consistency: too thick and floury and you'll end up with a pancakey, chewy result; too thin and it won't stick to the fish. This recipe is one of the most useful because you can use it when you're deep frying almost any fish or shellfish.

Method

For the ketchup, combine the tomatoes, onions and red pepper in a large, heavy pan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until very soft. Push the lot through a coarse-meshed sieve and return the purée to the pan with the sugar, vinegar and mustard. Tie the spices, peppercorns, bay leaf and garlic in a square of muslin and drop it into the pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a slow simmer. Allow to bubble gently, for at least an hour, stirring

often. The time will depend on how juicy your tomatoes are, but you should cook the sauce until it is really thick and pulpy. Taste it a couple of times during cooking and remove the spice bag if you feel the flavour is getting too strong. Once cooked, season to taste with salt and paprika, if you're using it, then leave to cool. Pour the ketchup through a funnel into suitable bottles and seal. Stored in the fridge, it will keep for a month.

To make the batter, sift the flour into a bowl, or put it in a bowl and whisk it (which is almost as effective a way to aerate the flour and remove lumps). Add 2 tablespoons of groundnut oil, then gradually whisk in the beer, stopping when you have a batter with the consistency of thick emulsion paint. Beat it well to get rid of any lumps, season generously, then leave to rest for 30 minutes or so.

Heat the oil in a large, deep, heavy-based pan until it reaches 160°C, or until a cube of bread dropped into it turns golden brown in 1-1½ minutes.

Dip your chosen piece of fish into the batter so it is thoroughly immersed, then lift it out and hold it over the bowl for a few seconds so any excess batter drops back in. Now lower the battered fish into the hot oil. Do this one piece at a time, if using large portions, or in small batches for smaller pieces, so as not to crowd the pan.

Fry large pieces of fish for 4–5 minutes, and smaller items, such as squid rings, for 2 minutes or so, until golden brown and crisp. Scoop them out with a wire basket, or 'spider', and transfer to a warm dish lined with kitchen paper. Keep them warm while you fry the remaining fish, then serve straight away, with your ketchup or perhaps some tartare sauce.

Serving suggestions

As well as the obvious fillets of white fish, such as plaice, pollack, coley, cod, haddock and whiting, we've had great success with beer-battered dogfish goujons, squid rings, even scallops.

We've included our tried and tested recipe for homemade tomato ketchup here too, as it never fails to please with battered fish. The recipe is based on one by Lindsey Bareham in The Big Red Book of Tomatoes (Michael Joseph, 1999).

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Ingredients

  • 200g plain flour
  • Groundnut oil, including plenty for deep frying
  • About 250ml good beer –- anything really, including stout, but preferably not cheap lager
  • Mixed fish of your choice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato ketchup:

  • 3kg ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4 onions, sliced
  • 1 large red pepper, seeds and white membrane removed, chopped
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 200ml cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
  • A piece of cinnamon stick
  • 1½ teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1½ teaspoons cloves
  • 1½ teaspoons ground mace
  • 1½ teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and bruised with a knife
  • Paprika to taste (optional)
  • Salt

This recipe is taken from...

River Cottage Fish

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