Making the Best Fish and Chips

Buying food and reading labels can be a dizzying task. One can't help but be overrun with questions like - Is this good for me and my family? Is it safe to eat? Where did this come from? Is this sustainable? Reading labels can work most of the time, but what if there’s no label, as with fish? You would think if a fish has been around since the beginning of time and spawned billions of eggs - there wouldn’t be any problem, right? But not so fast, too much of anything can be harmful, even cod. 

Here's a solution - Seafood Watch, provided by the same folks who operate the Monterey Bay Aquarium; which by the way is a fantastic experience to visit in itself. I’ve had the occasion to visit for both leisure and as a keynote speaker and celebrity chef a few years back to kick off the Monterey Food & Wine Classic. 

Pardon me while I digress, I will get right back to cod...While I have you in Monterey, I want to mention a one degree of separation between John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (the gritty side of life in this seaside post depression novel) and lovely Monterey. One of my friend’s families was the basis of a character in Steinbeck's tome. It is also that same good friend, Bert Cutino from the famed Tortilla Flat neighborhood on Canary Row who owns the famed Sardine Factory, a must stop when in town. 

Now, back to the cod. With it’s mild flavor, low fat content and a dense, flaky white flesh, it's no wonder cod is one of the most common fish used for fish & chips along with haddock and plaice. But, did you know it is currently at risk from over fishing in UK, Canada and other Atlantic waters? So be in the know with Seafood Watch. Use this guide to find ocean-friendly alternatives to seafood on the Seafood Watch “Avoid” list. It’s a good thing to use discretion and follow their lead so in the future when we are calling all cods, there are still some around.

Best Choices: Cobia (US farmed), Cod- Pacific (trap, hook-and-line, longline from AK)

Good Alternatives: Cod- Atlantic (Northeast Arctic and Iceland), Cod- Pacific (U.S. trawl)

Avoid: Cod: Atlantic, Iceland and Northeast Arctic (trawled),  and Pacific (imported)

The carbonation in the beer makes the batter exceptionally airy and produces a crispy coating. Malt vinegar is a British favorite on fish and chips.

George Hirsch Beer Batter Cod

George's Beer Batter Cod
Recipe by George Hirsch, Know Your Fire Cookbook, Putnam 1997 

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 eggs
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup beer, a strong full flavored Stout or IPA
vegetable oil for frying
2 pounds cod fillet, cut into serving pieces
Malt vinegar for serving

Combine 1 cup of the flour, sugar, baking powder and black pepper in a medium bowl. Stir in the eggs and hot sauce. Slowly pour in the beer, stirring constantly, until the foam subsides and the batter is smooth. Let the batter rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil to 370 degrees F. in a deep sauce pan or deep-fat fryer.

Dredge the the cod in the remaining 1/4 cup flour, shaking off any excess, and dip into the batter.

Carefully slip the pieces into the hot fat and cook until brown on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Serve with french fries and malt vinegar.