Thursday, February 11, 2010


I'm afraid to admit that I seem like a fun international gourmet only because I know a few tired tricks. I don't actually have any deep underlying expertise. Usually I don't need it because you can eat Mexican, Chinese, French and Japanese food and then start over and the world keeps revolving just fine. But throw a curve ball at me and I'm going to have to do something drastic. Something like... wildly and irresponsibly making stuff up!

Whose idea was it anyway to make Fish & Chips for dinner? I think it must have been my roommate Julia Child. She's cosmopolitan as all get out. But she's classy cosmopolitan, like the British Empire. Maybe that's because she studied in England and then served a mission in Hong Kong. The sun never sets on Julia Child's travel experience. Anyway. She was my inspiration, and the sheer empirical beauty of hot oil and corn batter was my impetus.

Feeling Chipper - an English Pub Simulation at the Chinese House

First of all is the pronunciation. I was constantly entreated by my Australian mission companion to come visit her down under and we would dine on fish and chips wrapped in newspaper as we sat on the beach and tried not to get stung by something lethally venomous. I agreed with this dream and would often repeat it back to her (usually over a breakfast of vegemite and marg on toast in our little kitchen in Yokohama), but I always messed up the pronunciation.

"So, when you eat FISH and CHIPS in Australia...."

"No, no, no, Anarchy," Anarchy being her endearing nickname for me, "it's not FISH and CHIPS. It's FISHandchips."



"Whatever. Stop whinging and pass me the marg."

I had to look up chip recipes online - I was going to try to bake and boil and otherwise adulterate but I was informed that no, they needed to be fried. And I found some rather good advice.

First - cut them into wedges... as thick as your index finger. Soak them in water to remove excess starch.

Then is the trick. This is easy if you have an electric wok with a temperature dial. (Do our assets include an electric wok with a temperature dial? Affirmative! But the lid is lost in the boys' apartment somewhere. And you just poured all the oil in the other pan. Fine. FINE!)

If not, you have to figure out how hot your oil is and get it to about 350. If a cut up 1" cube of leftover biscuit from the back of your refrigerator turns brown in one minute, your oil is about 365 degrees. Isn't that the most arbitrary measurement ever? This is how wacky and ridiculous things like the United States Customary System get entrenched.

Anyway, the secret secret that produces absolutely delicious chips is thus: fry them in low-temp oil (350 degrees) for about 3 minutes. Take them out and drain them well. (We didn't have any sort of a basket so I fished them out with tongs and put them in a metal colander on top of paper towels) Then, crank up the oil to 400 degrees (medium high to high on a gas range) and cook them again, until they start to turn a lovely golden brown. Take them out and drain them well again, and sprinkle them with salt and... are you ready for this, mates? Rosemary. They're surprisingly non fatty and unbelievably delicious and disappear too fast to get a final photo of them. (It is rumored that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle captured a photo of these chips once during a séance, but modern daguerreotype experts mostly agree it is a rather shotty hoax.)

Next comes the fish! Now, if this was actual authentic Fried Fish of the Realm, it would probably be cod and it would be coated in a light flour and water batter with a little bit of baking soda. Did I think to check vital information on this in wikipedia before I started? No! Did I assume in all my American arrogance that since tilapia was cheap tilapia was a good idea and we should just fry it up in corn batter like my dear old Southern ancestors would have advised? Of course! My sous-chef Jimmy is a Southern boy himself so he had no objections to this and we charged on ahead in our rugged colonial fervor!

Corn batter is beautiful no matter how you do it, but so far my most successful has been about half and half corn meal and white flour. And then salt. Sugar if you want to. This much flour took about 4 eggs, and then milk until it was a good thick soup consistency.

Jimmy is my fish fry man - and not afraid to get dirty!

Beautiful, beautiful fish. I wrote a little ballad to the fish as it was frying. I would recount it for you again here but it would only make me cry. (5 minutes or so in 375 degree oil makes the song particularly poignant)

The meal isn't totally nutritionally bankrupt - don't worry. We have mushy peas. What are mushy peas? I don't know. The British have such darn complicated, obscure ways of naming things!

I used three bags of split peas (kind of way too many) and boiled them in my rice cooker on the brown rice setting. There was kind of way too much water, my rice cooker overflowed and there's still a weird burnt smell emanating from the electric heating element. This may or may not be an advisable way to go about cooking dried peas.

When they're done, though, they're most pleasant and loveable. Add a little sugar, a stick of butter, some milk and salt to taste and mash like mash potatoes.

I must report that the most satisfying result of mushy peas is getting to serve them like a lunchlady. Practice, if you need to. Get the most enormous ladle you have and make all your guy friends stand in line with their plates held out in front. (Don't forget your hair net!) There is seriously an art to the scoop and splat, but I know you have it in you. It's maybe one of the most liberating modes of self expression I've found.

Serve the FISHandchips with vinegar (because that's what that camp song said that you eat with fish and chips) or worcestershire sauce or whatever else you have in the door of your fridge. Some of the guys might insist on defiling your lovely rosemary chips with ketchup but forgive them - they only err because of the wicked traditions of their fathers.

I'm not sure if Yao Ming liked the fish, but he spent the entire meal moaning "Wooooo. WOOOOOOOOO. Woooooooo," and occasionally displaying the tastiest morsels for me to see. At least none of us are cultured enough to know that my authentic English pub food was actually a fictional sham.


  1. I technically am cultured enough to know if it was a sham, but I would have liked to try it anyway. Especially the chips! Oh man, do I miss chips...dang! Now I'm all cravey

  2. Ha ha, this is an especially excellent post. Do you spend much time thinking some of this up, or does it just come? Really good mix of more obvious and very subtle humor.

    Those chips were REALLY good. I don't know if they were "authentic," whatever that means (you've heard me talk about this), but I'd be surprised if "authentic" FISHandchips chips are that good (I've had them in Dublin--does that count as "authentic"?).