Ahhh….. How the passage of time alters our perception of reality. We look backwards through grease splattered glasses and see ourselves biting through crunchy, crispy batter into flavoursome, chunky, freshly caught cod. This fishy delight accompanied by the most delicious ‘crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside’ potato chips. This wonderful serving enjoyed every Friday in Holy Catholic Ireland by God fearing, clean living, cap doffing, hopeful people, who paid only one and sixpence to feed the entire family.
Was it ever thus? Or, has the ticking of the clock shifted the focus on the lens of reality? Why are so many chippers today serving such poor food? Like defrosted, grey fish, of dubious origin, encased in stodgy batter ,served with a ‘smaller than I remember’ bag of greasy chips. The average family needing appropriate paperwork and bank approval to afford a serving. Where has it all gone wrong? Why do we put up with these standards?
“It hasn’t gone wrong”, you say. “What about the Borza in Tallaght Village or the one in Dalkey or Macari’s in Churchtown, or any one of the better chippers around the country?” OK, I’ll give you that. A good number of the chippers in Ireland have maintained a high standard. But, sadly many have not.
Side note on vested interest: For clarity, I’ve done a good deal of work over the years with the Irish Traditional Italian Chippers Association, so I know better than most how the best maintain standards. But, the best are not the rest.
This got me to thinking how one could prepare non traditional fish and chips and perhaps show some of the lazy grease-vendors that higher quality is the way forward. It certainly is the future around these parts. Global cod stocks are under enormous pressure. We can ease that pressure by eating some other fish and giving the cod a chance. So, for my Future Focussed Fish and Chips, I used the plentiful and delicious Hake. The humble potato is not under any imminent threat of extinction, but I decided to cook some Herbed Parmesan and Polenta Chips, for a bit of difference.
My ingredients for two people are as follows:
- 2 fresh hake fillets
- A few pinches of sea spice (dried seaweed to you)
- 160 grammes of polenta and half a litre of water
- A big handful of coriander (cilantro) including soft stalks
- A big handful of parmesan cheese, grated
- Salt and black pepper to season
The polenta chips take a little time but they are worth it. Slice the coriander and grate the parmesan. Make the polenta by salting the water, bringing it to the boil and slowly adding the polenta, stirring all the time.
When it’s cooked (this timing varies from polenta to polenta), add the cheese and herb. Stir to incorporate.
Line a 20cm (8 inch) square baking dish with cling film and pour in the polenta. Flatten it as best you can.
Let it set and cool completely. Turn it out and slice it into chunky chip shapes.
Place the chips on a lightly greased baking tray and add a little olive oil to get a crispy edge.
Bake in a hot fan oven until they get nice and crispy. Turn as needed. The whole oven process will take 30 minutes or so. The fish is simple to prepare. Sprinkle it with the sea spice and season.
If you are lucky enough to have a home sous vide device, vacuum seal the fish with a little butter, and cook it for 30 minutes at 54ºC (134ºF).
If you don’t have the boil in the bag device, Heat a frying pan to medium and place the fish on skin side down for a few minutes. Watch the colour change to completely opaque then take it off and let it rest for a couple of minutes.
Serve the fish with the chips. Add a nice slice of lime for a quality feel and excellent flavour.
Let’s face it. You will never get something as good as this in a takeaway. But, if you cook this for yourself, you will visit the takeaway less often. This will potentially have one of two commercial effects;
Potential effect 1.
You and thousands like you will abandon the chipper in favour of my concoction. The badly run chippers (with the too old oil, soggy chips and flaccid fish) will go bust. That will leave only the better, more progressive outlets. That’s a win.
Potential effect 2.
Some inventive and progressive chipper owners will read this and, instead of hunting me down and leaving a fish head in my bed, they will take the lessons on board and try some progressive, modern takes on the traditional. You and thousands like you will abandon the chipper mentioned in ‘Potential effect 1’ in favour of their more progressive counterparts. They will flourish and the badly run chippers (with the too old oil, soggy chips and flaccid fish) will go bust. That will leave only the better, more progressive outlets. That’s a win too.
Can you see where this is going? If you cook this for yourself, you will be part of a movement that will be thanked for raising the dining standards of a nation. Either that, or you could just go to the chipper… Enjoy that.