Tuesday 5 January 2010

Cape-style Crispy Spiced Battered Fish Bites

Rice flour, chickpea flour and beer give this spiced batter a lovely crispiness: as the nuggets hit the hot oil, the batter puffs up into a crunchy golden cage, while the encased cubes of fresh linefish are quickly cooked by the action of steam. It took me four attempts to find the right formula for the batter, and, in true Goldilocks fashion, the last option - namely, to abandon wheat flour and cornflour altogether - was the best.

Crisp battered fish is, to my mind, the food of the gods, but I very rarely make it at home because deep-fried food isn't exactly wholesome family fare, is it? A McRatburger-and-fries now and then is all my teens can expect in the deep-fried department. (Hah! There is no McDonalds in our new home town!)

I have called this 'Cape-style' because the fish comes from my local harbour, and because the batter contains some of the key spices and flavourings of Cape Malay cuisine.

Served with a cool avocado and coriander dip (but use yoghurt in place of the crème fraîche), this is a delectable snack for a festive occasion, and I promise your guests will fall on them like starving puppies. Do use very fresh, firm-fleshed fish, from which you have removed all the bones, and not frozen fish, which will turn to mush.

I find it easiest to deep-fry food (not that I'm the expert, but for what it's worth) in a small, deep saucepan over a gas flame. You can use a pan over an electric plate, or a domestic deep-fat fryer, but a naked flame is better because it allow you to regulate the heat with ease. For perfect results, I can recommend using a thermometer - I use a jam-making/candy thermometer - to keep the oil at a constant temperature of between 160°C and 170°C. If you don't have such a gadget, have a look at these tips for checking whether the oil is hot enough.

You can use ordinary cake flour, with a little cornflour added, for this recipe, but you will get a much crispier result using rice flour (available from health shops) and chickpea [gram/channa] flour (from Indian spice shops).

Cape-style Crispy Spiced Battered Fish Bites

For the fish:
1 kg fresh, firm-fleshed white fish fillets, deboned and skinned
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tsp (10 ml) lemon juice
salt and milled black pepper
a little rice flour
oil for deep-frying

For the batter:
¾  cup (180 ml) rice flour
¾  cup (180 ml) chickpea [channa] flour
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
2 tsp (10 ml) powdered coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) red chilli powder (or more, to taste)
1 ½  tsp (7.5 ml) salt
milled black pepper
1 x 330 ml can of ice-cold lager

To serve: 
lemon wedges
flaky sea salt
a dip of your choice (I can recommend my coriander and avocado dip)

First make the batter. Sift the rice flour and chickpea flour into a mixing bowl and add the spices, salt and pepper. Gently pour the beer over the dry ingredients and whisk lightly until you have a smooth, slightly puffy batter about the thickness of cream.  Don’t over-mix the batter. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Cut the fish into 2-cm square cubes. Put the cubes in a bowl and add the garlic, ginger and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss well to combine. Set aside for five minutes.

Warm a platter in the oven. Heat the oil in a small, deep saucepan, until it reaches 160°C. Put a little rice flour on a plate. Roll each fish cube in rice flour, dust well to remove the excess and, using a fork or a pair of tongs, dip the fish into the batter so that it is well coated. Gently lower the nuggets into the oil (five at a time is about right) and cook for a minute and a half to two minutes, or until puffy, crisp and golden. Fish the nuggets out of the oil in the order in which you put them in, using a slotted spoon, and drain well on kitchen paper. Place them in the warm oven while you fry the rest.

Serve piping hot with lemon wedges and a dip.

Serves 6-8 as a snack. 

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Justin said...

chickpea and rice flour? hmmm, that sounds really interesting. i wish frying wasn't so messy though.

Robyn MacLarty said...

These look evil! (In a good way...) Thanks.

Jeanne said...

I can almost hear the seagulls at Mariner's Wharf...! Good fish & chips truly is the food of the gods, especially when eaten within earshot of the sea.

gabriella said...

yippee! channa and rice flour are both gluten-free. sounds good

Sophi said...

made these yesterday and they were absolutely fabulous. thank you for an awesome recipe

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Sophi Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed them. This is one of my all-time favourite fish recipes.