Ever wonder how they get the fish to stay moist & tender on the inside with a super-crispy outside crust?
The magic is in the beer batter. Beer is saturated with CO2. Most solids, like salt and sugar, dissolve better in hot liquids; gases dissolve more readily at low temperatures so when the batter hits the hot oil, the solubility of the CO2 plummets and bubbles froth up, expanding to lend the mix a lacy, crisp texture.
This only works with beer, not with other bubbly liquids. Champagne bubbles burst as soon as they appear but beer contains special foaming agents. Some are proteins that occur naturally in the beer and some are added by the brewer to preserve the bubbles and make for beer’s creamy, long-lasting head.
The alcohol in beer also helps to make foods crispy. It evaporates faster than water, and so cooking time is shorter for foods in beer batter than for foods in batters made with other liquids. The faster the batter dries, the lower the risk of overcooking the food.
It’s not as hard as you might think to reproduce authentic-tasting Dublin style fish & chips.
• the fish
One and 1/2 lbs cod fillets, skin & bones removed, cut in 2” wide strips, 5 to 6” long and patted dry.
• the batter
1 (12-ounce) bottle Guiness beer
2 cups all-purpose flour
Pour beer into large bowl, whisk in a cup and a half of the flour, reserving the rest.
• the method
Heat 6 cups vegetable oil in a Dutch oven to 375º. Important: use a thermometer. Season fish with garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste, dip in batter, dredge in the remaining 1/2 cup of four and slide into the hot oil. Fry fish, turning frequently 4-5 minutes, until deep golden and cooked through. Drain on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and keep in a 250º oven. Fry remaining fish in batches, allowing oil to return to 375º between batches.
• the chips
Here it’s all about the potato. Choose the baking type, such as Idaho, not the small waxy ones. To serve 4-6 people, use 4 large potatoes cut wider and thicker than traditional American French fries. Fry them twice for best texture; first par-cook them in 375º oil, remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and chill, then fry again in small batches for about 10 minutes. Keep warm in a 250º oven —but for no more than 10-12 minutes if you would avoid the dreaded sogginess that sets in with too long a wait.
• the presentation
No longer served in a cone made from yesterday’s newspaper, Dublin Fish & Chips come to you piping hot in a brown paper lunch bag with malt vinegar or maybe a lemon wedge, plastic knives, forks and paper napkins to soak up the grease. You make your own plate by tearing open the bag.
Serve forth with pints of Guiness.
J.R. Tillotson, a writer, illustrator and long time river villager, welcomes comments from our readers