After a cold, rainy day caring for a sick baby (I’ve been barking like a seal), Mama had a hankering for a good old fashioned fish fry, like the kind her Wisconsin hometown is known for. There, they dip fresh lake perch in beer batter and deep fry it to a golden brown and serve it on the town’s famous hard rolls with a schmear of tartar sauce. (I ate lots of GeeGee’s perch when we visited last summer.) Well, we didn’t have perch, but we did have cod. And Kaiser rolls. “Close enough,” Mama said with excitement.
First she made the beer batter because, she explained, it needs to rest. (Incidentally, she happened to have Wisconsin beer on hand. I don’t understand what all the fuss is.) Once the batter was underway, she moved on to the rest of the dinner. Emboldened by her recent vichyssoise victory, Mama felt confident that I would eat oven fries. She sliced a few organic red bliss potatoes and tossed them with olive oil and spices such as cumin and dill and of course lots of salt and pepper. Into the 350° oven they went, and she turned her attention to the tartar sauce. (At this time, she also poured a whole bottle of canola oil into a large frying pan and turned up the heat.)
Because I still can’t eat homemade mayonnaise, she used the kind from the store, added a bit of chopped relish and capers, a splash of Worcestershire sauce (holy cow, is that a word!), and salt and pepper (all to taste). And that was it. My oatmeal takes longer to make.
What came next I could only see from afar, in Papa’s arms. Mama stirred the potatoes on the baking sheet and closed the oven again. (“It’s hot!” she warned.) She sprinkled a few flecks of flour into the oil to see if it sizzled—that means it’s ready. Then, one by one, she dredged the pieces of cod in a bit of whole wheat flour and then dipped them in the rested beer batter before very carefully slipping them into the hot oil. Boy, did they sizzle! We all made the sizzle noise—pa-dop, pa-dop, pa-dop!
While the fish cooked, and because we “needed” a vegetable, Mama sliced half a red cabbage (they have more nutrients, in case you were wondering), shaved a carrot, and mixed up some slaw dressing—mayo, cider vinegar, celery salt, and salt and pepper (again, all to taste). By the time she was done, it was time to turn the fish over. It was golden and puffed, and even I could tell it was crispy. The kitchen smelled kind of funny, to be honest, but Mama was very pleased.
When the fish was done, Mama removed it from the oil with a strange looking spoon—it was wide and flat with all kinds of holes in it—and put the pieces on a paper towel to drain. The fries were done, and all that remained to be done was to set the table. Dinner in no time at all.
Mama and Papa ate that dinner so fast, I think they rivaled the dog. As for me, I wouldn’t take one bite. Not a one. Of anything. What can I say? I’m a baby.
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2/3 tsp baking powder (roughly)
salt and pepper
A few tablespoons flour + more
1 cup room temperature beer
Flour for dredging whatever you’re going to dip in the batter
Whisk together the cornstarch, baking powder, salt and pepper, and a few tablespoons of flour in a large bowl. Add the eggs, and whisk to blend it all together. Add the beer and blend again. Then add enough flour to reach your desired consistency. Some people like a thicker batter, others a thinner one. Whisk it really well to get out all the lumps, then just set it out on the counter until you’re ready to use it.
Note: Mama says this makes a lot of batter, so if you’re only making a small amount of fish, pour some of it into a smaller bowl. That way you can save the remaining batter for something else—such as onion rings and other veggies, shrimp, or chicken strips. She also says you can add dried herbs and spices to the batter.