This month’s 5 Star Makeover really kicked my ass.. It’s all about Sustainable Fish, and that is a great topic. Sustainable Fish is important. If we want to make sure that our oceans and rivers have food for future generations, Sustainable Fish is more than important- it has to become a way of life, and soon. Our large fish populations are in peril, our freshwater fish supplies are largely contaminated, and we foodies need to get the word out about the importance of using sustainably harvested fish. We do no less when we shout about this organic fruit, or that local veggie. But then we turn around and go all out at the sushi bar. I am one such person. I had no idea until this challenge that the only fish I like are the unsustainable kind….
I pride myself on being an adventurous eater…but during this challenge I realized the big caveat to that statement is ‘except where fish are concerned’. Chalk it up to the enforced fly-fishing practice in the backyard when I was a kid. Or the enforced fly fishing excursions where I was tramped through poison ivy only to be left alone on a stretch of river with my fly rod, which on the first cast invariably got stuck in the willows. Chalk it up to one too many trout bones choked down with a piece of bread… With all due respect to those of you who’ve found Zen Nirvana with the whole fishing thing- Thanks, but I’ll take my meat with legs.
As I hemmed and hawed and procrastinated about what to cook up, I had to confront the realization that with the exception of sushi, I really don’t like fish. In fact, I shamefacedly admit, it’s usually the last thing I would consider ordering on a menu. Good for the future viability of the fish population, bad for the adventuresome eater and wannabe Julia Child. Furthermore, on those occasions when I do have fish- I like it raw or with lemon and butter. Lemon and butter are lovely, but when doing a food makeover, they equal one thing: b.o.r.i.n.g. Not very adventurous.
Faced with the choice of chickening out or sucking it up, I went with the latter and started to figure out what I was going to do. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great site, full of information about what fish is sustainably produced, what are good alternatives, and what you should stay away from entirely.
The biggest challenge for me here in the midwest was finding a fish labeled ‘best choice’. It was impossible, actually. Even at the one Whole Paycheck in town. There’s a dearth of good fish here- and given that we’re a two day drive in any direction from the nearest ocean, I can see why. I did however, find a ‘good alternative’ farm raised blue tilapia from Ecuador, also deemed ‘Eco OK’ by the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector. I’ve never had tilapia before. I know, I know- I’m displaying my foodie ignorance and novice abilities here. It’s a nice, meaty white fish. And, when I thought about what fish I’d like to have, and never get because of my gluten intolerance- my mind immediately jumped to fish-n-chips! Gluten Free fish ‘n chips are impossible to get. Heck, even getting gluten free fries at a restaurant is impossible because the fries are cooked in the same oil as the onion rings, battered fish, squid, chicken tenders and cheese sticks.
So, as I thought about what would be a fun twist on fish and chips, I thought, why not cook the chips with the fish- in the batter? Frying everything all crispy, and then instead of tartar sauce, serve with a homemade chipotle-lime mayo in place of the traditional tartar sauce? And the dish was born. Not only was it a surprising combination- it was really fun to eat the crispy shoestring potatoes in the fish batter- I discovered that I LOVE tilapia!! In this preparation, the tilapia turned out meaty, flakey, and just a little bit juicy. It was the perfect compliment to the crispy outside. And the mayo? We’ll be spreading that on everything for some time to come. As for a beverage- a delicious gluten-free beer- and I’m in pub heaven!
Now, I can’t say that I’ll be having fish once a week from here on out- but when sustainable tilapia is on sale- I’ll be bringing some home for sure! Maybe next time wrapping it in bacon!
Many, many thanks to fish guru Lazaro for patiently and kindly answering many of my questions related to this fish challenge!! For a complete round-up of all the 5 Star Makeovers and links to the other participants blogs, Visit Lazaro at Lazaro Cooks! and Natasha at 5 Star Foodie. You’ll be inspired by all the incredible and creative fish dishes you see.
Lastly- please visit my friend Sabrina at The Tomato Tart on Wed March 30th. Over 90 bloggers across 4 continents are coming together to sell their confections to the highest bidder to raise funds for Second Harvest Japan- that nation’s first foodbank. I’ve donated a batch of my gluten-free orange almond teacakes.
Gluten Free Fish and Chips with Chipotle Lime Mayo
Chipotle Lime Mayo
zest of 2 limes + extra for garnish
3/8 tsp chipotle powder (more if you like it hot)
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 tbs lime juice (fresh squeezed is best)
3/4 cup grapeseed oil
pinch of salt
twist of pepper
Gluten Free Fish and Chips
1 3/4 lb-2 lbs sustainable white fish like tilapia
1 egg + 1 egg white
2/3 cup sweet rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1 1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp salt
12 twists from the pepper mill (about 3/4 tsp)
2 russet potatoes, shredded finely
enough shortening and /or oil to fill a fryer or dutch oven with at least 1 inch of liquid- about 1 1/2 lbs of shortening sticks
Cooking or candy thermometer (I have an electric one- very handy)
In a small bowl place eggs, lime zest, chipotle and lime juice. Using a hand mixer on high, whip the eggs until frothy and the yolk has begun to lighten. Very slowly add a few drops at a time of the oil into the mixture. Continue adding the oil by drops until the mixture has begun to thicken. When the mixture shows signs of thickening add the oil in a thin stream, but still go slowly. Keep beating on high. It will feel like your arms are going to fall off. When the oil has been completely absorbed, add the salt and pepper and give a quick mix. Place in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. Garnish with additional lime zest.
disclaimer: yes- this is real mayonnaise, and yes- it has raw eggs. I know my farmer and where my eggs come from. I trust him implicitly. If you are concerned about salmonella or other yukky organisms I suggest you find a farmer you know and trust and buy your eggs locally. Foodborne illness from eggs comes from poor handling practices, and stressed out chickens. When chickens are raised in factory farms where they don’t see the light of day, never walk around, and poop on their neighbors heads, you get yukky organisms like salmonella. You also get eggs with higher cholesterol because the chickens are stressed out. Happy chickens=happy eggs=happy you…I eat raw eggs, and I shamelessly sample the cookie and cake batter. I’ve never been sick. Ever. That said- only you know where your eggs come from, and only you can decide if you are comfortable eating raw eggs. If you aren’t- then make this mayo by adding the lime juice, zest, and chipotle to a store bought jar. The freshly made mayo will keep about a week. Do not leave it sitting out on the counter, and be sure to cover it when you put it back in the refrigerator.
For the Gluten Free Fish and Chips
In a separate small bowl, place the egg, egg white, sweet rice flour, tapioca, salt, pepper and buttermilk. Mix thoroughly and set aside. Finely shred the potatoes- think shoestring size- rinse in a colander, squeeze out the excess water, and set aside. Lastly pat the tilapia dry and slice into sections of even thickness. Most filets will be thick at one end and thin at the other. When you fry them, fry the thick pieces together, then the thin pieces. That way, everything in the pan is cooking for roughly the same length of time.
Place shortening into your fryer and turn the heat to medium-high. I use my cast iron fryer. You could use a stainless steel pot, or dutch oven. What’s important is a pot or pan that can stand high heat and has a minimum of 4 inch sides. A splatter guard is helpful too.
While the oil is heating up, set up a dredging station on one side, and a cooling station on the other. For the dredging station, place a cooling rack over a cookie sheet. For the cooling station, place a cooling rack over another cookie sheet and cover with paper towels.
Dip the filets in the batter and place on the dredging station. Grab a small handful of shoestring potatoes and pat them onto the fish. Flip the fish and repeat. This is VERY MESSY work…embrace it- you will be happy when you eat your very crispy fish! If the potatoes start to slip off the fish, and they may, take your fingers or a small ladle and add a tiny bit of batter to the potatoes. The oil will be hot enough that when the batter hits the pan it will stick to the fish nicely.
When the oil temperature reaches 350 degrees fahrenheit, add 3-4 slices of fish. It will bubble like crazy, and you’ll see the temperature drop. This is normal, and why it’s important to only put a few pieces of fish in at a time. Wait until the oil is nearly back to 350 (about 3 minutes give or take) before flipping the fish. Allow to cook about 1 minute on the second side, and when the thermometer reaches 350, remove the fish. * Don’t let the oil get much over 350- the chemical make-up begins to change and ruins the taste.
The batter and potato color should be a rich golden brown, and the potatoes should be crispy and stiff. Place on the paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Cover and lightly pat with another paper towel. Add the next set of fish. Continue frying until all the fish have cooked. You may have a little extra potatoes and batter. If you do- fry them up too- they make great fritters and shoestring potatoes!