Episode 22 – “Fry Hard”

Posted: November 18, 2014 in Season 2
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Chips and Fish

I was excited to see that I would be making Alton’s fish and chips after watching the 22nd episode of Good Eats. I love fish and chips, but had never made it before. We do not really do any deep frying at home, so this was to be a new experience for me. My parents fried food when I was a kid, so I have memories of them making French fries, onion rings, etc. For most of their frying, I remember them using a deep fryer. For this recipe, Alton uses a Dutch oven to fry his potatoes and fish. Our only Dutch oven is cast iron, and Alton explains that one should not fry in cast iron because the iron oxide from the metal can cause your oil to turn rancid. I, however, could not justify the purchase of a new Dutch oven simply for this recipe, and figured I could toss the oil after frying, should it appear rancid. Prior to commencing frying, I sliced my Russet potatoes (one per person) on a mandolin into perfect French fries. As soon as your potatoes are cut, you want to submerge them in cold water, which serves to remove excess starch; excess starch prevents steam from escaping during cooking and also causes the potatoes to brown. The potatoes can sit in the cold water for up to 10 hours. My potatoes sat in the water for a couple hours.

Potatoes soaking in cold water to remove starch.

Potatoes soaking in cold water to remove starch.

Once I was ready to fry, into my Dutch went my gallon of Safflower oil, after my husband, Ted, kindly made an extra trip to the store to purchase more oil (we had not initially purchased enough). Safflower oil has a high smoke point of 510 degrees, making it an ideal oil for frying. Alton tells you to fill your Dutch oven to within 1.5 inches of the top. A gallon of oil in a five-quart Dutch oven is perfect for this level. I used a candy/frying thermometer to monitor my oil’s temperature, as this is what Alton had done in the episode.

Safflower oil for frying.

Safflower oil for frying.

A gallon of oil in a five quart Dutch oven.

A gallon of oil in a five quart Dutch oven.

Once your oil is in the pan, you want to heat it over high heat. Meanwhile, you want to prep a rack over a sheet pan, as this is where your food will drain after frying.

Rack over a sheet pan for draining fried food.

Rack over a sheet pan for draining fried food.

Fifteen to 60 minutes prior to frying your fish, you want to mix up your batter. For the batter, you combine flour, baking powder, Kosher salt, cayenne pepper, Old Bay Seasoning, and a cold bottle of beer. Making the batter much further in advance will cause the beer in the batter to lose its bubbles. The batter goes into the refrigerator to chill while you fry your potatoes.

Flour, baking powder, Kosher salt, cayenne pepper, and Old Bay Seasoning.

Flour, baking powder, Kosher salt, cayenne pepper, and Old Bay Seasoning.

Dry batter ingredients plus a beer.

Dry batter ingredients plus a beer.

Completed batter.

Completed batter.

Prior to frying, it is necessary to drain your potatoes very thoroughly. Alton uses a salad spinner for this step, but as we do not have a salad spinner, I used kitchen towels to roll up and pat my potatoes dry.

Drained potatoes, drying on towels.

Drained potatoes, drying on towels.

When your oil reaches 320 degrees, you are ready to begin frying your potatoes in batches (fry ~one potato at a time). Since our potatoes were very large, I fried mine in three batches. The French fries are fried two times – first at a lower temperature and then at a higher temperature. For the first frying, you just want to fry your potatoes until they are translucent and starting to get floppy, which takes two-three minutes. Cool the potatoes to room temperature.

Potatoes draining on racks after first frying.

Potatoes draining on racks after first frying.

As my potatoes were taking their first dip into the oil, I noticed that my oil was really bubbling aggressively, and some oil even spilled over the edge of the Dutch oven.

Hot, bubbling oil.

Hot, bubbling oil.

Ted and I noticed that there appeared to be some smoke coming from the burner, and I contemplated removing the pan from the heat. Ted convinced me not to worry (Safflower oil does, after all, have a very high smoke point). By this point, the kitchen was getting quite smokey, one Coonhound had fled to the basement for cover, all of the windows were open (it was about 22 degrees outside), and the other Coonhound was observing us from behind the blockade of chairs we put around the perimeter of the kitchen. It was about this time that we heard a “whoosh” sound as flames ignited under the pot. Fantastic. We turned the burner off immediately and Ted carried the Dutch oven out to the driveway. Meanwhile, the burner was still on fire and the fire extinguisher made an appearance.

Never good when this makes an appearance.

Never good when this makes an appearance.

As Ted attempted to put out the six-inch flames with a kitchen towel, I grabbed a sheet pan and placed it over the burner to suffocate the flames. I guess all those years of watching crappy cooking shows like Hell’s Kitchen paid off, as images of Gordon Ramsay smothering flames danced in my head. After a couple of hectic moments, we were good to go, albeit with completely blackened burner drip pans, a scorched kitchen towel, a house full of smoke, and two very confused dogs. I somehow failed to get pictures of this whole series of events. Go figure. I was less than enthused about continuing with the recipe. Ted, however, insisted that I continue, transferring the oil to a deeper pot (and a clean burner). Once my oil was back to temperature, I completed the first frying of my potatoes. For the potatoes’ second swim, you want to increase the oil temperature to 375 degrees and heat your oven to 200 degrees. Again, frying the potatoes in batches, you want to fry them until they are a nice golden brown. While they are still hot, season them generously with Kosher salt, and stick them in the oven to keep them warm. When the potatoes are all done, it is time to fry the fish. For this recipe, Alton suggests using tilapia, and he says he purchases frozen fillets. Since only two of us would be eating, I used 3/4 of a pound of tilapia, which I thawed and cut into one-inch strips.

Tilapia fillets.

Tilapia fillets.

Tilapia cut into 1" strips.

Tilapia cut into 1″ strips.

Prior to dipping your fish strips into the batter, you want to dredge them lightly in cornstarch, tapping off any excess.

Dredging fish in cornstarch.

Dredging fish in cornstarch.

Then, into the batter they go. The batter has a tendency not to coat the patches of fish where there is more batter, so you may have to dip them twice. The batter is quite thick, but clings well to the fish. You want to fry the fish until it is golden brown, turning it over several times while frying.

Fish frying in new, deeper pot on clean burner.

Fish frying in new, deeper pot on clean burner.

Frying fish.

Frying fish.

My fish took about three minutes to fry. Again, you want to drain your fish on a rack to get rid of excess oil.

Fried tilapia, draining on racks.

Fried tilapia, draining on racks.

Golden brown fish.

Golden brown fish.

Alton recommends that you break one of your fish strips in half to make sure the fish is cooked through; if not, you can finish the fish in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Oh, and be sure to serve your fish and chips with malt vinegar.

Fish and chips, served with malt vinegar.

Fish and chips, served with malt vinegar.

I love malt vinegar on French fries, and I fondly remember going to the boardwalk near my aunt’s house in Delaware to get a newspaper cone filled with malt vinegar-sprinkled French fries, but I digress. Though I had a bit of a “frytastrophe” in making Alton’s fish and chips, Ted and I both found the resulting product to be very good. The French fries were light and fairly crispy, though I would have preferred mine a little bit crispier. The Fish was golden brown and had a light, super crispy shell, while the fish inside remained very moist. One of my pet peeves when ordering fish and chips at a restaurant is that the batter often slides off of the fish, but the batter in this recipe clung to the fish beautifully. The fried coating was flavorful, though I could not identify the Old Bay Seasoning. All in all, this was delicious, though it ended up being too much food for us. I would do a half pound of fish for two people, if I were to make this again… and I probably will make this again. Next time, however, I will use a deeper pot for frying, and I will try to use a salad spinner to dry my fries, as I think my potatoes may have been a little too damp when they went into the oil, causing my oil to bubble over. It is safe to say that this episode goes down as the most disastrous in my little project. Let’s just hope it stays that way.

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