Baked Fish 'n' Chips

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Nick Roumel

Fish ’n’ chips is one of those foods I think I will like more than I actually do. First, there’s that cutesy little ’n’ in the title. Second, there’s that heavenly aroma and beautiful golden brown coating on the fish. Third, fried potatoes.    

When Frank McCourt was growing up in poverty in Ireland, according to his autobiography “Angela’s Ashes,” he too romanticized fish ’n’ chips, especially because he could never afford it. When he was lucky, he was only able to lick the crumbs and grease from the newspaper that his uncle’s fish ’n’ chips was wrapped in. I can close my eyes and smell the pungent mingling of fish, oil, vinegar and newsprint, and I, too, ache for fish ’n’ chips.

The reality is, usually, I am underwhelmed. The fish is soggy, or dominated by coating. Or it’s bland, no matter how much malt vinegar and salt I keep adding. I end up picking desultorily at the potatoes, wondering why it isn’t better.

It really boils down to the salt and vinegar; the fish is simply a canvas. Nothing stings so good like a generous mouthful of salt and vinegar, especially if your lips are chapped or have a little cut. It’s one of the very few flavor combinations that succeed because of the presence of something discomfiting (another is very hot food). It’s also a flavor that translates beautifully to potato chips. Crunchy salt and vinegar chips are insanely good. If I want something truly decadent, I sprinkle a little extra malt vinegar on a bowlful, with a touch of cayenne pepper.

So today I had a brainstorm. Why not coat fish in the crumbs from salt and vinegar potato chips, and bake it instead of frying to avoid that unpleasant sogginess? Well, when I Googled it, apparently I was far from the only person to think of this. There are scores of such recipes, some coating the fish in flour and egg before the potato chip coating, others simply topping it with mayonnaise or even yogurt. I tried it both ways and loved them both. First, cod is a beautiful fish for baking — mild, firm and flaky; and it combines well with a crunchy coat. Second, it is wonderfully compatible with potatoes (what isn’t?).

I decided I preferred the baked version that rolled the fish in flour and egg before coating with the potato chip crumbs, as if preparing for frying. It tasted more substantial but without the grease. While this doesn’t qualify as a low-calorie food, when accompanied by baked or grilled potato wedges, it is significantly leaner and nonetheless filling and delicious. Especially when accompanied by curried “chips.” Drool.


Baked Cod with Salt ’n’
Vinegar Potato Chip Coating and Potatoes

(serves 2)
Ingredients
4 cod filets (5-6 oz.)
1 egg, whisked with a little hot sauce and a tsp. of hot water
1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
4-5 oz. kettle cooked salt ’n’ vinegar potato chips, finely crushed
2 russet potatoes, sliced thickly
TBS olive oil
Spices such as 1 tsp. curry, 1 tsp. cumin, ½ tsp. coriander, ½ tsp. garlic powder or 1 fresh garlic clove

 Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400º.

2. Start your potatoes. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices to taste. Cook on a stovetop grill or in the oven, turning frequently, until browned nicely. This takes 30-45 minutes.

3. Season fish with salt and pepper. Lay out three bowls with the egg wash, seasoned flour, and crushed potato chips.

4. In assembly-line fashion, dredge the fish in the flour, coat with the egg wash, then cover generously with the potato chips, especially on top.

5. Place fish filets on a baking rack sprayed with oil spray, over a baking pan covered in foil. You can also place the fish right on a sprayed baking pan or on sprayed parchment paper. (If not using a baking rack, you can skip putting potato chips on the bottom; they get soggy.)

6. Bake 12-15 minutes until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork; time it so that the potatoes are done at the same time.

7. Steam some broccoli or some other vibrantly green vegetable.

8. Serve piping hot, with malt vinegar and hot sauce. (If you are a tartar sauce person, I can’t help you. Skip this recipe and buy some Mrs. Paul’s.)

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.

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