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Spud Dud: How to Make Fish and (No) Chips

Happy new year, beloved readers! If your lives are nothing like ours, it was a restful period, free from the cinematic conflict and drama which is only ever occasioned by a semi-annual conference of relatives. We hope that you put our last recipe of 2022, How To Ruin Christmas, to very good use over the holidays. Wink, wink.

In the eleventh hour of 2022, I relocated to Three Anchor Bay, Cape Town. On the whole, this has been a very positive move. Unfortunately, because I am a young professional and because moving is very expensive, I am waiting for my next paycheck to buy either a stove or a washing machine.

In the interim, my kindly father has taken pity on me and has lent me his camping stove so that I can subsist on the stuff of Western films until the stove materialises. You know - heating cans of beans and grits on a naked flame, turning the entire affair into a musical number about the relationship between a man and his horse. That kind of setup. This scene has good cinematic value, but it does not bode well for the recipes that I so faithfully produce for an adoring audience in Life & Style.

Nevertheless, we move forward. In light of my current situation, I have opted to remain positive and to see this as an opportunity to share recipes that require only a single source of heat for (moderate) success. Sure, the loss of a working oven and more than one burner might have devastated other home cooks, but not this one. Instead, I intend to share in my optimistic folly so that you can learn something about cooking.

If nothing else, this will be an instructive series which demonstrates what kinds of meals you can prepare on a hotplate in a dorm room or out camping in the wilds. That's worth something!

Since I moved, I've eaten about fifty different pasta dishes (more of those to come). To switch things up, I tried last night to make a beloved dish of mine - beer-battered fried hake. It was an interesting experience. It all began with the Sea Point Spar.

In the beginning...

When I tell people that one of the best parts of moving to Three Anchor Bay is my new proximity to the Sea Point Spar, I mean that with as much sincerity as I can muster. The SSP is heaven for home cooks and purveyors of fine Tupperware. One of the nicest things that this Spar offers (and trust me, there is a lot to celebrate) is a fish counter from Fish4Africa, providers of fresh and ethically sourced seafood.

When I saw that they had fresh hake for a very favourable price, I knew I'd found my catch of the day. Undeterred by the lack of an oven in which to make roast potatoes, I bought the fish and resolved to boil a single potato to enjoy with the protein. I also had some leftover purple green beans (I call them goth beans) from the Oranjezicht City Farm Market that I knew would pair swimmingly with this meal, which explains this picture:

See? Goth beans. I didn't actually land up using the beans or the potato, but that's a woeful tale for another day. We're going to proceed as if you are going to use all of the ingredients pictured here.

The wasteland in the fridge also offered up to me an abandoned six-pack of Black Labels that my brother had forgotten after New Year's Eve, a lonely lemon from a previous dish, and a big bunch of parsley from two different bunches that were threatening to go soft.

Have I painted a vivid enough picture of the fridge of someone who has just uprooted their entire life to a new suburb? If I can make an edible meal out of this motley assortment, then anybody can.

Anyway, here's a full list of what you'll need from the shops and/or from the back of your poorly-stocked fridge:

For the fish bit:

  • Hake fillets

  • Half a cup of flour

  • About three shakes of paprika

  • Just a gentle shake of cayenne

  • A generous pinch of normie salt

  • Pepper

  • Bottle of beer

  • Parsley for garnish

  • Lemon or lime for flavour

  • Flaky salt (for going on top of the fish)

  • Potato

  • Beans or other suitable greens

For the mayonnaise bit (yes, I made mayo from scratch like a maniac)

  • One egg

  • About a cup of canola oil

  • One tsp vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar, but white spirit vinegar works just as well)

  • One tbsp Dijon mustard

Here is exactly what I did (follow these instructions at your peril)

Right. Because I am in some kind of torturous home cook purgatory until I can afford a stove, I can only cook one thing at a time. This exercise has been extremely character-building and a real test of my patience, all to my personal detriment.

Step One: Prep your kak

Okay. If your hake is in two big fillets, slice each side into four so that they're manageable pieces that you can easily fit into and flip inside your pan.

Now, sift your flour and dry spices into a bowl.

Slice your citrus so that it's ready to go and chop up your parsley so you can garnish quickly right at the end.

Put a pot on the boil for your potato. Set up an immersion blender and a suitable vessel for your mayonnaise.

Step Two: Boil your potato

Boil your potato for what feels like an eternity. Take it off the heat and pierce it to check. Realise it's nowhere near cooked. Abandon the potato. You are ravenous and you can't be arsed to wait for the potato before you start in on the fish. It's fish and no chips for dinner tonight, baby.

Step Three: Make the mayonnaise

While your potato is boiling for ten million years (and to no avail), you can kill the time by making mayonnaise with the cup part of a blender and an immersion blender. In the cup, chuck in one whole egg, vinegar, mustard, and salt.

Blend this quickly until it's all mixed together. Then, while the immersion blender is running in the mixture, add your oil in a steady, thin stream. The mixture will start to thicken instantly. Keep blending until it resembles mayonnaise. Be careful: if you add too much oil at once you risk breaking the mayonnaise, which can be fixed by adding another egg to the mixture.

Step Four: Batter your hake

Before you start the batter, heat about 2cm of neutral oil on medium-high heat in a cast iron pan or any thick-bottomed vessel. You'll know it's done when you stick the end of a wooden spoon in and it fizzes. If it's smoking, it's much too hot.

Prepare your batter by pouring beer into the dry ingredients and mixing until you get a thick (but not lumpy) milkshake-like consistency. Coat your hake fillets on each side in this batter.

Step Five: Fry!

Now, gently lower the battered hake into the hot oil. Do not do this from some height, as I did, as you seriously risk dropping batter into the boiling hot oil and splattering it everywhere. It turns out that cooking as close to a comfortable arm height as possible is essential to kitchen safety. Just another reason to buy the damn stove.

Anyway, fry until golden on both sides. Remember that the oil needs to cook the fish under the batter as well. I wish I had a metric to tell you how long this took, but honestly, I don't know. I go on a gut feeling. Terrible advice, I know. You could always buy an internal thermometer if you feel very strongly about it.

Step Six: Sympathy break!

Okay, time to take a closer look at my kitchen set-up so that you take pity on me, an avid home cook, and the odds I am battling to feed myself and entertain my readers. Please note the aforementioned splatters of batter on the linoleum.

I mean. It's quite amazing what you can achieve with a single gas canister, a cast iron pan, and some gumption. Cancel the sympathy, I am more deserving of admiration. Thanks!

Honourable mention: the world's smallest washing machine, which (like the stove) comes up to my knees and can wash little more than a handful of undergarments and a vest or so at once. When it's on a spin cycle, it also has the charming quality of moving freely across the kitchen floor like a deranged assailant with a very poor sense of direction.

Step Seven: Exhausted and starving, abandon the rest of the recipe and just eat your fried hake

Here's what I learned during the making of this recipe.

  1. For safety reasons, cooking should always happen at elbow height.

  2. More than one burner is absolutely crucial to cooking efficiently.

  3. Despite the odds, this recipe yielded a very flaky fillet with a delightfully light and crispy batter. I love beer-battered anything because it's easy and flavourful, and the bubbles from the beer help steam the fish for prime flakiness.

I mean, look at that!

Although we lost the potato and the beans along the way, the fish went down a treat with some kimchi I had in the fridge, fresh lemon, salt, and homemade mayonnaise. Not all was lost, then.

If you dare attempt this recipe, I would strongly advise that you do with the benefit of a fully functioning stove. If you, like me, are living the single burner life right now, I assure you that the blog is about to become populated with more practical recipes than this one.

Until then, happy cooking!


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