I don't fry a lot. When I was growing up, frying was strictly verboden. We were a household that had fat-free butter. My dad regularly ate egg whites--just egg whites cooked up in a non-stick pan (what did we do with all those yolks?). Go '80s. It's not just the hairdos that leave one shuddering. Anyway, we would have sausage or bacon on Christmas and maybe Easter. That was about it. I remember my mom frying things maybe 2 or 3 times, although she may have done it a bit more when I was young. So even though I no longer consider fat evil, I'm not really very experienced at submerging things in it.
Yet...Kip and I love fish and chips. We usually get them at a restaurant because, although I've tried homemade ones a few times, they always come out (edible, yes, but) sort of bready and not even close to the thing we're really after. And they always take an hour. In fact, while I'm on this little topic, let me take a moment to vent about my pet peeve with frying in general--I hate having 3 stupid bowls--one for the flour stuff, one for the eggs, one for the milk, and then trying to dip my whatever in all three bowls and winding up with batter crusted hands and a huge crusty counter mess and all those dang bowls to clean afterwards. And then to get a mediocre product at the end, well, it was enough to send me running for Bonefish Grill.
Because these are the best fried fish you'll ever make. I might as well be wandering around the streets of San Francisco eating them out of a little basket for how good they are.
And they are easy. Easy easy easy easy. Sing it with me. You make one batter. You dip them in. You put them in oil. They cook. You eat. It's lovely.
I got the recipe from Food.com and I cannot change a thing. I should warn you, though, that there were many many comments about the batter sliding off if people didn't pat their fish perfectly dry. And now I should confess to you that I completely forgot to pat my fish dry at all (I read the comments after making this) and that my batter didn't even begin to slide off. I don't know why people had issues with this, although I wonder if it had to do with the temperature of their oil. To test your oil, drop a bit of batter in. It should sizzle and immediately begin to float to the top and then just keep gently cooking. It should not turn instantly brown and it should not just sink to the bottom and hang out there for a few minutes. If you have an instant read thermometer, my oil was at about 260-270 when the food was in it (though I forgot to check its before temp, I'm guessing it was about that). If your oil isn't hot enough, the batter will slide off because it will sort of disperse into your too cool oil.
We served our fish with these oven fries and dipped it in this, though this would have been incredible too. It was just awesome. In fact, it was so awesome that when I realized I had some extra batter, I chopped some squash into it, and fried that up too. I liked that so much that a few nights later, I made some squash fritters and actually wrote down some instructions for the rest of you. Ah yes, another way to conquer your squash (although not quite as calorie-free and, thus, '80s approved as this soup was).
Golden Battered Fish
Prep and cook time: 30 minutes
tilapia: $4, flour: .10, oil: .60
4 tilapia fillets, cut in half along the dark line in the middle (this makes them skinnier, not flatter--so you'll have 8 long skinny-ish fillets, not 8 flat, wide fillets)
2/3 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp vinegar
2/3 C water
Note: This is a very basic batter. You could season it with cayenne, pepper, dill, or whatever you choose. I, myself, being in pure rebellion against '80s cooking, chose to leave mine simple and dip them in a mayonnaise-based sauce. Ha.
Heat a sturdy pan with oil. I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet. I used vegetable oil (peanut, corn, or canola would also work--as, I believe, would coconut). You only need about 2 inches of oil. Heat it until it's about 270 degrees (or the point at which you can drop some batter in and have it sizzle and float to the top).
While it heats, combine flour and salt in medium sized bowl.
Combine baking soda and vinegar. It's going to bubble up and then simmer down. Add 1/3 C water to this and stir just a turn or two.
Add that to the flour and then add the other 1/3 C water. Whisk your batter (with a whisk) until it's smooth (or nearly).
Test your oil. Drop a dollop of batter in. It should sizzle and immediately float to the top. If it doesn't do this, give your oil a few more minutes to warm up (or cool down) because if you put these into your oil too soon, you could ruin them.
Dip your fish into your batter. The batter will coat the fish. Place the fish into the oil. Unless you want your arms to look like you've been making fries at McDonald's for years, please be careful. Your battered fish is going to sizzle and spit. On my first round, I played it dangerous and used my hands to do this. I held the very end tip of the fish and gently placed it in the oil--you DO NOT want splashing oil. (To flip the fish, I wised up and got some long BBQ tongs. That was less stressful as I was much further from the oil, although I'm not sure if the tongs would have caused the raw fish to tear or break apart...)
After the batter on the bottom of your fish is a dark golden color (and the top will be cooked, but not dark golden), flip the fish. Use tongs if you're clever. It should be mostly cooked, so flipping should be pretty easy with tongs. Cook the other side until it is dark golden.
Place fish on a paper towel-lined plate and, for goodness sake, let them cool a few minutes before you bite it or you will burn your tongue and be unable to test any of this goodness for the rest of the night.
Note: If you like your fritters a little on the sweet side, add 1 Tbsp of sugar to the flour mixture. I made mine sans sugar and dipped them in a savory sauce.
You can make these with some extra batter (or whip up a batch on all its own). You can actually put whatever the heck kind of veggie you wish inside of them: corn, broccoli, whatever, or--you know--chunks of cheese for the particularly fat-conscious. We used yellow squash and it was great. If you'd like an actual recipe, here you go.
2/3 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2-1 Tbsp sugar, optional
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp vinegar
2/3 C water
2 C little squash cubes
Chop squash into very small cubes (1/2 centimeter or so). (Take out any seedy sections in the middle.)
Prepare other ingredients as stated above (mix flour and salt; mix baking soda and vinegar; add water to vinegar solution; add vinegar solution to flour; add remaining water). Whisk the batter, then add squash cubes.
Be sure oil is at right temp (about 270 degrees).
Your batter will seem really loose and you're going to think that this will never work. Have faith my friend.
Put your batter into a large table spoon (as in a large spoon that you use for eating). Hold the spoon just above the hot oil and CAREFULLY scoot the batter into the oil with your finger or another spoon (do this as though you're putting cookie batter onto a cookie sheet). If your oil is the right temp, the batter will almost instantly cohere to its blobby little self. (If your oil is too cool, it will spread out and be a gross mess. If your oil is too hot it will sizzle and spit so much that you will fear for your skin, so be careful to test it before putting your fritter in.) Repeat your little blobs until the pan is full. Don't let the blobs touch each other.
Cook until dark golden on the bottom. Flip and cook until dark golden on the top.
Eat hot (but not too hot, people), with dipping sauce if you care not for the low-fat guidelines of the '80s and '90s.
NOTE: To reheat the fritters or the fish, put them on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 until they're hot, crisp and golden again. (Seriously, my leftover fritters were these nasty soggy things, but a few good minutes in the oven and I could barely tell they weren't freshly prepared. In fact, I think I might have liked them a little better the second time around.) In a Paula Deen-esque moment I almost used 2 leftover fritters as a mini hamburger bun for a leftover hamburger, but at the last minute, I realized that I just couldn't do it. (Although after putting my burger in a super blah, slightly stale bun, I sort of regretted my choice.)