The Deconstruction of Fish & Chips

At CR’s urging, I decided to give the deconstruction of fish & chips a try.  (For background on the Top Chef deconstruction challenge, read about it here.)

My challenge was to create a dish that would deconstruct fish & chips and end up tasting like the original.  Since the only ingredients in the traditional offering are white fish (usually cod or haddock, depending on your locale), and potatoes, both fried and heavily salted, then served very hot, it wasn’t easy. But it was intriguing.

THE PLAN

Really good fish and chips are served very hot, very greasy, and very salty. There’s a good crisp breading on the fish, and the chips (fries) are thick and tender, not like McDonalds, but like your mother’s best home fries. I decided to bake the fish, and use potatoes to create the crispy texture of the fried version of both fish and chips (fries).  I had the luxury of two days to think about it, and arbitrarily made a rule that I had to use the fish in the house, which was halibut.   The challenge in my mind was to get the simple, satisfying flavor of that very, very simple food and not add much of anything to the ingredients to try to make it upscale.  I decide to bake the fish, mash potatoes, and try two different crispy potato pancakes.

malt vinegarBy happy accident, I was in the English Home Goods store (where we buy stupidly expensive imported PG Tips for $26 for 250 bags, but trust me, if you get used to English tea, American is very pale in comparison). While I was there, I happened to spy a small bottle of malt vinegar. Eureka! Everyone knows you can’t eat fish and chips without malt vinegar!

THE PROCESS
(Note: always remember that I am at 7000 ft altitude, so shorten your cooking times if you decided to try anything I post!)

I started with Yukon Gold potatoes for the mash.  The fish was simple, 7 oz frozen halibut steaks.  The chefs on Top Chef had two hours, but that seemed excessive, so I started 90 minutes out.  Peeled and boiled the potatoes, leaving them a tiny bit undercooked so they could rest in the hot water while I readied the fish and made the two pancakes.   The fish was very simple prep: olive oil in the pan with plenty of kosher salt, in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes. 

To get ready for the pancakes, I grated two medium size potatoes and a very small onion.  (Onions are not standard here, but I just couldn’t do potato pancakes without it!)  For the first set of potato pancakes, I mashed about 1-1/2 cups of cooked potatoes with 2 tablespoons butter, enough milk to make a good paste, then blended it until the potatoes were smooth. Added 1/2 a beaten egg (save the other half), a tiny bit of grated onion, roughly 2 tablespoons of flour, and for some body, about a quarter of the grated potatoes, and salt and pepper.  Because I wanted a very thin, crispy cake, I added milk until the batter was fairly thin.

Since time would be short, I also made the second batch of potato pancakes, which were a hashbrown with a little egg to hold them together. Mixed the grated potatoes, grated onions, salt, pepper and the other half of the egg together.

I used an electric grill and poured a generous amount of canola oil on it (this was the greasy element), then added a couple of tablespoons of butter and heated it until it was medium hot.  On one side, I poured the mashed potato pancakes, on the other, the hashbrowns, and let them cook.

Meanwhile, I poured the water off the remaining boiled potatoes, put them back on the burner on low, added 4 tablespooons butter, milk (my mistake is always adding too much milk, so I do it in small amounts) and mashed the potatoes, keeping an eye on the potato pancakes at the same time, and turning them about 3 minutes in.  They were nicely brown and by this time, I was getting very hungry, so I was beginning to look forward to eating this experiment, however it turned out!

CR was in charge of setting the table, and now, the timing was critical.  I took the fish out of the oven, and on the plate I had already sprinkled with malt vinegar, the fish was settled in the middle,  it with the two different pancakes in a circle around it, and a nice mound of mashed potatoes to one side.  It was rather bland looking, all that white, so I put the lemon rounds on top of the fish, even if they are not traditional (“You’re American,” said CR. “We make allowance for you.”) 

 

The layering was, pancake, fish, mash, all in a single bit, with a dip in the little pool of vinegar.  We both tried it, blinked, and looked at each other in happy pleasure.  He tried one kind of pancake, I tried the other, and—it worked! 

DSCN1312 by you.

Honestly, it was wonderful, and a faithful deconstruction/recreation.  For the sake of the experiment, I thought the hashbrowns gave the layers the right greasy crispness, but CR preferred the pancake.  Both of them were delicious and very greasy and the kosher salt sprinkled on top added just the right layer of brine.

But I must admit that the malt vinegar was the crowning touch, pulling the flavors together just the way it does when you go to the chip shop.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY NOW

–I would cut the fish into smaller pieces and grill it rather than bake it, just to give it some color. 
–I would layer the pancakes, fish, and mashed potatoes like a tiny lasagna

I will definitely be making those little potato cakes again.  It was fun to make this dish just to find something we liked so much.

 

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Deconstruction Challenge, via Top Chef

Tonight, the chefs were asked to deconstruct a classic dish.   One of them was fish and chips, which happens to be one of Christopher Robin’s favorites, so I found myself trying to imagine how to do it.  As we watched, I kept tossing out ideas, and CR finally said, “Try it!”  (Subtext: please please please!)

So,  on Friday, I’ll give it a shot.  I promise to be truthful about the process, and post photos, mistakes, and…perhaps even a successfully delicious.  I’m not exactly a whiz with fish, but am very, very good with potatoes.  Wish me luck and….check back.

 (The photo is of the chip shop by CR’s mum’s house in Kent.)

At CR's urging, I decided to give the deconstruction of fish & chips a try. 
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THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING, Barbara O’Neal

Coming your way January 5, 2010:

Cover Image
FROM THE BACK COVER:
In this spectacular new novel, Barbara O’Neal delivers a generous helping of the best in life–family, food, and love–in the story of a woman’s search for the one thing worth more than anything.

At thirty-seven, Tessa Harlow is still working her way down her list of goals to “fall in love and have a family.” A self-described rolling stone, Tessa leads hiking tours for adventurous vacationers–it’s a job that’s taken her around the world but never a step closer to home. Then a freak injury during a trip already marred by tragedy forces her to begin her greatest adventure of all.

Located high in the New Mexico mountains, Las Ladronas has become a magnet for the very wealthy and very hip, but once upon a time it was the setting of a childhood trauma Tessa can only half remember. Now, as she rediscovers both her old hometown and her past, Tessa is drawn to search-and-rescue worker Vince Grasso. The handsome widower isn’t her type. No more inclined to settle down than Tessa, Vince is the father of three, including an eight-year-old girl as lost as Tessa herself. But Tessa and Vince are both drawn to the town’s most beloved eatery–100 Breakfasts–and to each other. For Tessa, the restaurant is not only the key to the mystery that has haunted her life but a chance to find the home and the family she’s never known.

HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE by Barbara O'Neal Available TODAY in trade paperback from
from Publisher's Weekly How to Bake a Perfect Life Barbara O'Neal, Bantam, $15 trade paper
MAYBE THIS TIME Jennifer Crusie St Martin’s Press ISBN 978-0-312-30378-5 It has been six years
When I was a child, I loved going to  summer camp.  Girl Scout camp in
As I type this, a summery breeze is blowing through my office window.  I can

My spider friend

playing with the web by A writer afoot

Early in the summer, I noticed a yellow spider on one of my tomato plants.  He seemed to be taking care of nasty bugs, so I let him be.  He grew a little, and a little more, so the pot was no longer working as an apartment.  He built a web along the clothesline a couple of times, but that didn’t work for me.  I felt sad when I had to ruin it, though he’s pretty quick to rebuild.

For the past few days, he’s been hanging between the two posts on my deck. High enough the dogs can get under it without bothering him, and offering me very pretty views of his web-building skills. The silk glitters in the sunlight.  Yesterday, it was misty and I shot the web with all the little dots of water illuminating the structure (and then played with it to get the above–Picnic is a blast).

Unfortunately, he’s getting a little too big for my comfort:

my pet spider by A writer afoot.

I’m not brave enough to scoop him into a can and move him.  Not going to kill him, of course.  I have no idea what kind of spider he is, either, but he’s almost as big as my thumb now, and…..did I mention I’m afraid of spiders?  

What would you do? 

 

We've been working on new webpages, my friends. This one was given a facelift some
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This is a wintery sort of recipe, but a reader went through a lot of
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Mysterious teaser: here is a lot happening behind the scenes, which I will announce in

Radio essay online

I taped another radio essay last week.  It went live this morning and you can hear it here:

http://krccnews.org/rccnews/citizen-report-joan-i/2009/06/11/6111

This was so much fun: I've been participating in a local radio/newspaper project that broadcasts
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," writes Joan Didion in The White Album.  
As I type this, a summery breeze is blowing through my office window.  I can
Saw these in a vintage shop on West Colorado Avenue last Saturday. Something about the
Joan Didion, the celebrated writer, went to Columbia Elementary School for awhile. The old building,

stems

Met a friend for tea the other day and this vase was on the table.  Kept playing with the way it looked.  Just for fun.

A friend of mine has started a business flipping houses. We live in a lucrative
We've been working on new webpages, my friends. This one was given a facelift some
It's a gloomy morning in Texas, the air thick and cool, heavy with the thunderstorms
This is a wintery sort of recipe, but a reader went through a lot of
I've been hearing a lot of funny grumbling about NaNoWriMo.  I'm not sure why.  There

The first (work) day after the big rush to the end

First, a happy note for the day: THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS has just gone into an 8th printing! Thanks to you guys.  I’m so thrilled.

Anyone who has ever written had to work to deadline knows the giddy feeling that arrives just afterward.  I mailed the new book to my agent and editor last Friday, collapsed on Saturday and watched many episodes of Brothers and Sisters back to back, and yesterday did my spiritual activies (including Nia), and went to the movies with CR and Miles.  (STAR TREK–and even better than I’d been hearing.  Fun, fun, fun!)

The book is not entirely finished of course–this is just round one. Now everyone will read the book and make comments, suggestions, and as my brain clears, I know from experience that I will think of things I want to improve, or remember threads that I’ve dropped.  The recipes are still in progress; I ran out of time to test before mailing and have a few that are not quite where I want them to be.   And then there will be copy edits and galleys and we should be getting art fairly soon (as the book will be out in January).

But today, I’ve been working such a long time that I’m sort of lost over what to do with myself today.  Putter? Sleep? Clean my disaster of an office? Read all day? Eventually, I suppose I should return the wretchedly overdue library books (please tell me I’m not alone on my bad habit of running up library fines!).  Maybe I’ll just lie on the sofa and daydream.

I’ll have to get back to work soon enough. What do you do with a vacation day?

Sorry to be absent so much lately.  I'm working hard on the 2011 book.  it's the
After the busy holiday, it is a powerful luxury to come back to my office.
Technically, I suppose, apple butter is smooth.  I originally made this recipe last winter and
Come talk with me about Top Chef and the pale imitation Chopping Block at Romancing
     The Lost Recipe for Happiness debuts in Australia today (February 1).  I just

Testing recipes

D-day is Friday.  I’ve been testing recipes after I’ve done my pages for the day.  Honestly? It’s a great way to write a book.

 

 

 

 

Today was raisin bread day. 

 

Tomorrow morning, French toast made with the fresh raisin bread. 

Mmmm.

HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE by Barbara O'Neal Available TODAY in trade paperback from
from Publisher's Weekly How to Bake a Perfect Life Barbara O'Neal, Bantam, $15 trade paper
MAYBE THIS TIME Jennifer Crusie St Martin’s Press ISBN 978-0-312-30378-5 It has been six years
When I was a child, I loved going to  summer camp.  Girl Scout camp in
As I type this, a summery breeze is blowing through my office window.  I can

An excellent review and interview

The Gazette Telegraph’s book columnist had some lovely things to say about The Lost Recipe For Happiness:

http://anitalaydonmiller.blogspot.com/

I should add that she most graciously interviewed me and read my book open-mindedly even though I accidentally blindsided her in a blog I wrote for RTB.  Thanks, Anita.  A lady and a scholar.

 

HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE by Barbara O'Neal Available TODAY in trade paperback from
from Publisher's Weekly How to Bake a Perfect Life Barbara O'Neal, Bantam, $15 trade paper
MAYBE THIS TIME Jennifer Crusie St Martin’s Press ISBN 978-0-312-30378-5 It has been six years
When I was a child, I loved going to  summer camp.  Girl Scout camp in
As I type this, a summery breeze is blowing through my office window.  I can

Practicing beauty

It seemed like I spent way too much time at this Internet computer last week.  Don’t get me wrong: the Internet is a valuable, interesting place and for an isolated writer, the most glorious communication tool ever invented.  However, I can find myself wasting time, and not productively wasting time, either (like Facebook quizes, which are fun and relaxing, like America’s Next Top Model. Frivolous, yes. Wasting time, no), but spinning my wheels.

So I took an Internet fast from Satruday night to lunchtime today, and it was amazing what I did instead.  I read. I cooked. Then I still had some time left over, so I called my brother on the phone, and talked to my sister, actually talked to her, and then there was still some time so I straighted up my office, did some more work on my taxes, and dusted.  Really. 

And then, I still had time so I played with a notebook I keep of beautiful garden things that catch my eye.  It’s absolutely kindergarden level cut and paste: a moleskin notebook with magazine photos stuck to thegarden notebook 2 by you.

pages with a glue stick.  Cheap. Easy. 

Incredibly satisfying.  Cutting out pictures of dahlias, gluing them in place, leafing through other photos like, thinking about what to try this summer.  I miss succulents and might work with them a little more this year.  I might plant 500 dahlias.  Who knows? 

Magazine photos are often so beautiful I hate to throw them away.  I once had a character who cut out all the garden notebook 3 by you.pictures she liked and stuck them in a notebook, for relaxation, and that seems frivolous but wonderful, too.

How about you? Any peaceful habits of beauty you practice?

 

HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE by Barbara O'Neal Available TODAY in trade paperback from
from Publisher's Weekly How to Bake a Perfect Life Barbara O'Neal, Bantam, $15 trade paper
MAYBE THIS TIME Jennifer Crusie St Martin’s Press ISBN 978-0-312-30378-5 It has been six years
When I was a child, I loved going to  summer camp.  Girl Scout camp in
As I type this, a summery breeze is blowing through my office window.  I can