On the Plate: Fish ‘n chips – must be Friday night!

February 11, 2021 BY

Having a routine can be very liberating – or totally constraining.

Anecdotally I’ve heard the stories that you could tell which day of the week it was simply by knowing what was being prepared for dinner.

Think Sunday roast, Monday Shepherd’s Pie (using up the leftover cold lamb of course), Wednesday, egg ‘n bacon pie and of course Friday – yay – fish ‘n chips!

Depending on many factors and how far back you delve into history, the rarity of buying take away fish and chips on a Friday night was for many families a special treat.

Thrifty housewives might have had to budget a week or two ahead to be able to lash out, have a cook’s night off and send the eldest sibling on their push bike to the local fish and chippery.

These small businesses used to be found fairly liberally tucked away in the suburbs and were often the enterprise of recently arrived Greek immigrants.

I’m old enough to remember that the hot, thick chunky chips and fish – most likely flake, would be tipped piping hot out of the stainless steel fryer baskets onto the paper laid out ready to parcel up the delicious, golden fried food.

In my teen years, the packaging was literally the broadsheet newspapers from last week, lined with a single sheet of greaseproof paper.

There was no plain butcher’s paper as we now have, or indeed the fancy paper-lined cardboard boxes.

Most importantly, you needed to poke a small hole in the parcel to let the steam out for the bike ride home – so that the crisp batter remained just that – crisp.
Whilst I don’t want to do the delivery people of today out of business, I think it’s hard to beat ‘homemade’.

On Friday nights we often have some store-bought sushi – raw salmon usually – keeping with the very ‘Catholic’ seafood theme, followed by homemade chips (or more often potato cakes) with a serve of fish and salad.

So the recipe for today is my potato cakes – cos they’re pretty popular may I modestly add.

Homemade potato cakes

1 large potato (Pontiac, Désirée, Sebago varieties are good choices)
½ cup plain flour
1 good pinch bi-carb soda – approx. ¼ teaspoon
½ cup cold water (plus a little extra)
Rice bran oil

Wash potato, and remove any blemishes, but do not peel. In a medium sized mixing bowl, place flour and bi-carb soda. Make a well in the centre of the flour and using a small whisk or fork, slowly combine the water into the centre of the flour. Stirring the water in gradually, a little flour will cling to the surface of the flour thus avoiding any lumps. Allow the batter to rest for 20 minutes. If it has thickened a little, simple stir in a little more cold water. The batter should be the consistency of runny cream. Slice potato 2-3mm and heat the oil. Clean, very hot oil works best. If you have a thermometer, the oil it needs to be about 350-375C. If the oil has a blue-haze smoke, it’s too hot the potato cakes will darken too quickly without being cooked through. Let it cool down a little. Test by dropping a tiny amount of batter and if it bubbles quite vigorously at the edges, and floats to the surface, then that’s a pretty good indication the temperature is right. Dip the slices of potato into the batter and slide carefully into the hot oil. They will only require about two minutes in the oil. Remove them to a paper-towel lined bowl or plate – serve immediately for best results. If not, pre-heat the oven and cook the potato in small batches, keeping them warm in the oven for serving.
Note: The quantity of batter will easily coat 3-4 potatoes. Do not overcrowd the wok/pot as this lowers the oil temperature too much and you end up with soggy instead of crisp food.