A food staple of mine while ‘studying’ at university was the fish finger sandwich. Of course, then I could only afford the sort of fish finger that comes in a plain box and lists its ingredients as ‘white fish’, when in fact the goop inside the fluorescent ‘breadcrumb’ exterior was grey and gritty and thoroughly devoid of joy, and in fact, fish.
Regardless of this, slathered in sweet chilli sauce and sandwiched betwixt two pieces of brown toast, many a hangover was attenuated. Later on, I even branched out to posh fish fingers, with actual named fish in them. Still, frozen, supermarket fish fingers aren’t really going to be as enjoyable as a nice, fresh piece of fish. So, occasionally, I like to make my own.
A suitable sauce is out there for you, I’m sure, but I fancied some garlic mayo. Now, I could have just squeezed a bottle of Helman’s into a bowl with some garlic, but to be honest, real mayonnaise doesn’t actually taste much like the stuff you buy in jars. So I made some.
Now, legend says that mayonnaise is a mighty undertaking, almost impossible to make on one’s own. Pish, trollop and poppycock. It’s a piece of the proverbial. Egg yolks, a bit of vinegar for tartness, a bit of mustard for some body and some oil, plus seasoning and garlic in this instance. Some recipes will have you use the finest of Extra Virgin Olive Oils, so unfiltered you can still hear the Greek Philosophers discussing the meaning of life. Well, actually, if you use just olive oil, no matter how good it is, the mayo will end up a little bitter, so I use a bit of olive oil and mostly veg or sunflower oil.
Squash half a clove of garlic, or one small one into a paste with a pinch of salt. If you don’t fancy that, grate it, or bash it in a pestle and mortar. You can chop it if you fancy, but you’ll end up with great chunks of it then, which aren’t so fun. Chuck it in a bowl with the egg yolks, vinegar and mustard and beat them with a whisk until combined. Then you simply dribble in the oil a tablespoon at a time and whisk until your biceps burst. It takes about five minutes. People always complain about it splitting or curdling. Well, if your ingredients are all room temperature — no need to keep eggs in the fridge — you’ve nothing to worry about. If it splits, beat it harder, it’ll soon come back together.
After five or ten minutes, depending upon the vigour of your beating (a bit of decorum please), you’ll have a beautiful, glossy mayonnaise which is creamy in colour, not white! Taste it, check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Now, I find half a clove of garlic is more than sufficient to produce a strong and tasty flavour, but if you like more or less, it’s up to you. I find this balances the flavour with the ability to melt concrete with my breath. Your mileage may vary. Once it’s done, cling film it and stick it in the fridge.
For the chips, take one decent-sized baking potato per human and cut into the shape of chips. Size is up to you, mine were about 1cm in cross-section, just make sure they’re consistent or they won’t cook evenly. No need to peel either. Throw them in some cold water in a pan and give them a wash. Drain and refill, just enough to cover them. Salt the water heavily, don’t worry about your sodium intake, it’ll get chucked later. They need par-boiling, so whack up the heat on the hob. As soon as the water begins to boil, drain them and let them steam in the colander for five minutes or so. This means they aren’t soaking wet, and thus means they’ll go crispier on the outside.
Chuck ’em in a bowl with a good glug of oil, loads of seasoning and I also chucked in some sweet, smoked paprika for a bit of razzmatazz. They then need to go in the oven for about 20 minutes of so to go dead crispy and dead fluffy. Depending on the ferocity of your oven though, that might take anything from 15 to 25 minutes. Ours is like Satan’s own central heating system, so it was more like 15. When you do put them in the oven, try and spread them out on the baking tray. If you crowd them together, they’ll end up soggy. And as we know, soggy chips are revolting.
For the fish, I used cod as it was all they had in Sainsbury’s. Though, this recipe is fine for any firm, white fish like that. Haddock would probably have been my first choice as I think it has a bit more flavour. Coley is good too, if a bit watery.
I bought a single piece of loin, about 450g which turned out to be a bit too much for two of us, making ten fingers when sliced into 2-3cm fingers. Again, as with the chips, try and keep these as uniform as possible so they cook in the same time. This may mean turning the end of the fillet sideways for the last couple.
After turning the chips halfway through their cooking, I put a wide sauté pan on a medium-high heat and poured enough veg oil into the bottom to create a half centimetre pool. Leave this to heat for five minutes or so. The oil needs to be nice and hot when you cook the fish or, instead of going crispy, the breadcrumbs will just soak up the fat and go soggy. You can test this with a pinch of breadcrumbs or potato off-cut or something. It needs to sizzle.
While that’s happening, sort yourself out three bowls, one with flour in which you’ve chucked in copious amounts of seasoning — way more than you’d think; one with the discarded egg whites and an extra whole egg, lightly beaten; and one of breadcrumbs — I had had a bag of Panko breadcrumbs leftover, but use whatever you want.
When the oil is hot, and the chips are almost done, dunk each fishy finger in the flour — with a wee shake to remove the excess, the egg, then the breadcrumbs and lay gently in the hot fat. They’ll take 2-3 minutes per side, depending on how thick your fish is. When you flip them, they should look golden and appetising.
If your timing is good, they should be done at the same time as the chips. Remove them gently from the fat and onto kitchen paper to soak up the excess fat before plating up. I served it with peas and a great dollop of the garlic mayo.
I have to say, it was pretty damn good. Claire is training for a sprint triathlon at the moment, so her protein and carb intake is higher than usual and it satisfied her. I’m a fat get, and it satisfied me!
You might be tempted to throw in a few flavours with the flour for the fish, like more paprika or a bit of chilli powder. Actually, I think having the seasoned chips, the cleanness of the fish, and the buoyant garlic in the mayo work nicely together. It didn’t really need anything else. I was tempted to use mint in the peas, but again, just a bit of salt and that sweetness brought everything together.
For the Garlic Mayonnaise
2 Egg medium or large egg yolks (reserve the whites for later)
1/2 Garlic clove grated, crushed, pounded or pasted
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cyder vinegar or sherry vinegar (white wine vinegar would be fine too)
75ml virgin olive oil
175ml plain oil like veg, sunflower, rape, or ground nut
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Chips
2 Large baking potatoes (I used Vivaldi)
2-3 tbsp Olive oil
1tsp sweet smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Fish Fingers
One decent sized cod loin — about 300g sliced into 2-3cm fingers
1 cup approx of flour
2 reserved egg whites plus one whole egg, beaten
point 2 cups breadcrumbs (I used Panko, but a few hunks of stale bread whizzed up in the food processor will do)
Salt and pepper
Vegetable or other neutral oil
- Whisk together the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar, and pummelled garlic in a bowl big enough to contain about half a litre. Mix the oils in a jug and slowly pour in about a tbsp at a time, whisking until smooth. Once the oil is all combined and the mayonnaise is looking silky smooth, test and season to tastes. Refrigerate.
- Oven on, set to 200C. Slice up the potatoes into your interpretation of a chip. Peel if you want, I don’t. Wash and add to cold, salted water in a saucepan. Heat on full until the water just boils (less than ten minutes). Drain in a colander and allow to steam for a couple of minutes.
- While the chips are coming to the boil, sort your flour, egg, and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls or plates and slice up your fishy. Season the flour heavily, way more than you think is sensible.
- In a large mixing bowl, gently drop in your chips and the olive oil. Toss to coat. Use your hands if you have asbestos fingers like me, otherwise a wooden spoon or something. Be careful not to smash them to smithereens. Once they’re all coated, season with salt and pepper and the paprika.
- Spread the chips out on a baking sheet so there’s a bit of space between each one. Use two baking sheets rather than crowd them. Bang ’em in the oven for 15-25 minutes depending on your oven. Fan ovens tend to cook quicker. Take them out and flip them over halfway.
- Get a large sauté pan on the hob with half a centimetre of vegetable oil in the bottom. Once you’ve flipped the chips, turn the heat on medium-high and wait for the oil to heat up. Test the heat with some off-cut fish or potato, once it’s at sizzling temperature, you’re ready.
- Working as quickly as you can, coat each fish finger in first the seasoned flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs — shaking off excess after each– and lay gently in the hot oil. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side. The fish will be just cooked through, juicy and flaky. Remove from the fat and leave for a minute on some kitchen roll while you plate up.
- Serve chips, fish fingers, garlic mayo with some garden peas.