When I was a child sometimes my dad would drive us to Southend, for a day of mucking about on the Thames estuary. At low tide one could walk amongst the rockpools and we would go crabbing, using bent paperclips on the end of a piece of string and a chunk of frozen coleyfish (usually reserved for our cat) as bait. After returning the beasts unharmed to their dwelling, we would get fish and chips from a seaside vendor and sit – avoiding, usually, the lumps of tar on the rocks – on the seaside to eat. The fish came on little polystyrene rectangular plates, always far too small for the huge fillets of battered cod or haddock, and the chips in cones of newspaper, drenched with malt vinegar and salt. The fish was always served with those little ridiculous wooden forks, which to me always brought back unpleasant memories of doctors’ wooden tongue depressors (I used to get tonsillitis a lot). At school we were always served a rather sordid variety of fish and chips on Fridays – in the somewhat lazy tradition that passes for Christian belief in England – for lunch, but for me the best place I remember is a fish and chippie in London called the Seashell of Lisson Grove, where queues would come out of the store as people waited in line for the national dish (these days, a crown held by chicken tikka masala). We would often get food there on the way back from visiting relatives in the countryside, and unwrap the newspaper parcels at home to eat, with plenty of HP sauce. The fish was spectacular, and the chips were too; even our cat wolfed them down (I imagine because the chips were deep-fried in the same oil as the fish) as I furtively handed them to her despite my mum’s remonstrances about feeding the cat from the table. Anyway, after catching a hatful of cod from the beautiful and cold waters of Iwate Prefecture, I took a nostalgic trip down memory lane to make fish and chips. The batter is made with cold beer, eggs, salt, strong white flour and the secret ingredient – a pinch of cayenne pepper – and the fish deep-fried till golden and crisp. The quality of the cod – line-caught, bled and chilled but never frozen – did all the work and the result was spectacular. The batter made a crisp noise as I broke it with my fork (metal, this time) and the tender, moist, perfumed fish fell off the skin in chunks just like I remember.
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