Fried Fish Tale

 Photograph by Christopher Testani

When done right, fried battered fish satisfies like few other foods. Yet it so often turns out wrong — dense and greasy, when it should be light and juicy. In fact, nailing the dish isn't that tough; you just need to follow four hard-and-fast rules. (1) Keep the batter simple. "We use nothing but beer, flour, salt, and pepper," says Kenny Belov, owner of Fish, in Sausalito, California. (2) Use the right oil. Avoid deep-frying in extra-virgin olive oil, which is expensive and has a relatively low smoke point; canola or peanut oil is better. Plan on using at least a quart of oil, and heat it in a deep pot to guard against messy boilovers and splatters. (3) Heat the oil to 375°, and do not let it drop below 350°. Monitor the temperature with a candy thermometer. Be vigilant. (4) Dig in — it's crispiest when it comes right out of the oil. No problem there. If you've done it right, it'll be impossible to wait.

Beer-Battered Cod (Serves 4)

  • 2 lbs cod fillet (preferably Alaskan True) or other firm-fleshed white fish, such as halibut
  • 1 qt canola or peanut oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1¼ cups beer (use whatever you're planning to drink)
  • malt vinegar
  • tartar sauce, recipe below

1. Cut the fish into small, evenly shaped pieces roughly 2 to 4 inches long.

2. Add the oil to a deep, wide pot and heat to 375°.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the batter. Pour the flour into a medium bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Slowly add the beer to the flour mixture. Stir gently and as little as possible, just enough to combine the ingredients without beating away all the beer bubbles. A lumpy texture is good, and dry clumps are fine — you're looking for the consistency of thick pancake batter.

4. Using a pair of tongs, pick up one piece of fish, dip it in the batter, coat fully, and carefully place it in the hot oil. Still using your tongs, hold the fish submerged to allow a crust to form. After 10 seconds, release the fish and let it float freely.

5. Quickly repeat with two more pieces of fish. Do not overcrowd. (This will cause the oil temperature to fall, leading to a soggy, greasy coating.) Cook each piece for about 3 minutes, turning once midway.

6. Remove cooked pieces from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with salt, malt vinegar, and tartar sauce.

Kenny Belov's Tartar Sauce

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp chopped capers
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 3 tbsp minced cornichons
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dill-pickle juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix well. It will keep in refrigerator for about a week.