I don’t have what you would call a busy social life. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone on a night out around the bars of Toulouse. One of these nights was this Friday (I’ve lived here for nearly two years fyi), and even then, I left around 10:30 because I was hungry and wanted noodles. Regardless of the pathetic attendance of the night before, I still managed to feel somewhat fragile the next day. Cue the hangover food of dreams – beer-battered fish finger sandwiches.
A list of the culinary masterpieces of the British Isles, albeit short, would naturally include beer-battered fish. Of course, this fish is accompanied by its plucky sidekick, chips (although mushy peas is on another list altogether) as you can’t have one without the other.
However, somewhere else on this list of foods of which the Brits can be proud is the fish finger sandwich. Fish fingers from a packet in the freezer, baked until crisp, can be slid between two fluffy slices of packaged white bread, smeared with mayo or ketchup and yes, you have a culinary masterpiece. Soft, squidgy sandwiches full of crisp bread coating and flaky fish. And don’t get me started on the chip butty.
Spark up those fish fingers though, get that beer batter involved, and we have ourselves a hug on a plate. Which is exactly what we need on those Saturday or Sunday mornings when at last our social lives catch up with us. All I craved was stodge – I often crave that without drinking a couple of glasses of wine the night before, so now the craving had doubled. Lunch was late as Gaylord had worked a night shift so I was there chewing the carpet until he woke up. Then, once he’d appeared bleary-eyed and probably not craving fish as soon as he awoke, I marched into the kitchen to get started.
Beer-battered fish finger sandwiches
Making homemade batter versus taking fish fingers from the freezer can feel like a giant leap in effort, but all this recipe takes is three ingredients – flour, beer and, of course, fish. Whisk together the beer and flour along with some salt and pepper to make a creamy batter. Chop the fish fillets into nice wedges, dip them in flour for a pre-coat, then dunk them until completely submerged in the beer batter. I repeated this so ensure an extra crispy coating, and because I was in an extremely greedy greasy mood.
Then the fish fingers are fried – for self-preservation I’m not referring to this as deep frying because I used a frying pan. However, there was about 5cm of oil which certainly no longer fits in the shallow frying category (is there a middle-frying?) – until crisp and golden, the batter sticking out at odd angles. Naturally, I ate one as I cooked, and the crunch under my teeth was deeply satisfying. There was a hoppy tang from the beer, and the tender fish was juicy, flaking away into chunks as I scarfed it down.
Both fish finger sandwiches and beer-battered fish dinners are classics thanks to their ease and unpretentiousness although they have certainly faced gentrification, evidently by yours truly right now, and by the Guardian, so I’m afraid to say, these fish finger sandwiches fall at the posh end of the scale. That could be because of that fancy dill salsa.
Beer-battered fish needs tartare sauce, much like Ant needs Dec, and this dill salsa is vibrant green version of tartare with a few sprigs of dill, one of seafood’s best friends, added. Capers, cornichons and anchovies are finely chopped, bundled into a bowl with parsley, dill, lemon juice and zest, and a slug of olive oil. Mere chopping practice. But a briny, tart, fresh sauce to spread all over your battered fish finger sandwiches.
Finally, choose soft floury bread rolls. My choice was limited to Lidl and their crusted brotchens which, although delicious, didn’t have that soft squidgy chew I really wanted. And much like the beer-battered fish and those fish finger sandwiches, the bread is equally important to British cuisine; just say the wrong name for a bun or roll in various regions of the country and you may be the catalyst for civil war.
If it hadn’t been raining, I would have suggested taking these cute little butties out for a picnic, but I’m glad I didn’t as these are really a make-’em-eat-’em kind of food – both the word and food needs to be swallowed at speed. There’s no waiting when crisp beer-battered fish fingers are lying on the plate, steaming gently, unless you’re a fan of the limp and soggy batter (which admittedly I am, who here hasn’t eaten lukewarm fish and chips and not appreciated every morsel?)
Layer them up with mayo, beer-battered fish and a dollop of dill salsa. Lick the grease off your fingers as you eat, then, go ahead, dunk pieces of battered fish straight into the dill salsa. Manners don’t belong here. This is a meal that’s all about comfort.
Beer-Battered Fish Finger Sandwiches with Dill Salsa
For the dill salsa
- 1 anchovy
- A handful of chopped dill
- A handful of finely chopped parsley
- 3 cornichons the little ones
- 1 tsp rinsed capers
- Juice and zest of ½ a lemon
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the beer-battered fish
- 400 g white fish
- 150 g self-raising flour + extra for coating the fish I used plain with ½ tsp baking powder
- 300 ml beer I used a bottle of Heineken that has been in the fridge for months, further evidence of my lack of social life
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Soft bread rolls, mayonnaise
- First, make the dill salsa. Finely chop the anchovy, cornichons and capers, and add to a bowl with the chopped dill and parsley. Cover the lemon juice and zest and the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside for the flavours to macerate.
- Cut the fish fillets into thick strips across the width, cutting at an angle towards the tail for a thickish triangular piece. Season each piece with some salt.
- Set a wide high-sided frying pan on medium-high heat and add enough oil so there it reaches roughly 5cm high. Use a temperature probe bring the oil to 180°C. If you don't have a probe, use some pieces of sandwich bread – if they turn deep gold in 30 seconds the oil is hot enough. If it's too hot, remove the pan from the heat for a couple of minutes.
- Pour the 150g flour into a shallow bowl and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Slowly add the beer, whisking with a fork as you do to make sure the batter is smooth. Pour some extra flour into another bowl or plate and season with some salt.
- Dip a piece of fish into the seasoned flour then into the batter, you may need to use tongs as it can get messy! Repeat this with the same piece of fish – put the battered piece back in the flour then back in the batter to ensure it is thickly coated.
- Carefully place the fish in the hot oil – it will sizzle on impact. Cook for 2 minutes either side, making sure that the batter turns a nice shade of gold. As the fish is thin it will cook through quickly.
- Using tongs, place the the cooked fish on a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt. Repeat this with the rest of the fish – you can fit three pieces in the pan at once but it will bring down the oil's temperature so you may need to increase the temperature.
- Once all the fish is battered, cooked and seasoned, remove the pan of oil from the heat. Slice open some bread rolls, spread with mayo and dill salsa and pile in the beer-battered fish fingers.
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