Frying tonight

Food: The second part in our series on fish
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The Independent Culture
I have a personal preference for plaice in my batter, with chips and a liberal helping of tartare sauce. But, here, I'm bucking the trend: the line up at Costas fish restaurant in Hillgate Street, London W8, goes cod, haddock, plaice. Though Mr Michalis's batter would elevate the humblest specimen - he's been mixing up the same batter for the past 43 years and he's never let anyone in on the secret, save to say it gets a good three hours of stirring.

The flesh of plaice is sweet, tender and milky, but it's the skin that makes it distinctive. We are quick to do away with the skin of fish, and in the case of turbot which has skin like an old toad, this is right and proper. There are, however, other fish skins that, providing they are scaled, are close on being delicacies. It is a canny cook who separates skin from flesh, dips the former in a batter and deep- fries it to a crispy sheath to serve on top of the fish as an accompaniment.

The low-down on cod is that it's only worth having if it's really, really fresh, as in spanking, and that's a tall order, from coast to shop to home.

Oenone Acheson, one of the best cooks I know, marinates fish such as cod with coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, before dipping it in batter and deep-frying it, she then stirs some of the marinade into the batter to make fritters to go with the fish. The main complication with making fish and chips at home is getting the two ready together. It is easier to axe the chips.

Monkfish falls into the medium-bracket too, and until recently I would have told you my favourite recipe for it was Jane Grigson's lotte a l'Americaine - where it is flambeed with brandy and cooked with a tomato sauce, sprinkled with chopped tarragon parsley and crisp croutons (see Jane Grigson's Fish Book, Penguin, pounds 15). But that was until I dipped it in a spiced flour and seared it in olive oil for a few minutes each side - the result was superb: a lovely golden exterior, crisp at the edges with a really succulent interior (see recipe below).

Tuna, too, is not expensive. There's little wastage, and it's a filling fish, so it's actually good value. Don't discard the dark flesh, it has more flavour than the paler meat, a hint of anchovies. It is also more tender.

Much as I love raw tuna it does overlook stews of the comforting variety. The trick with these is not to overcook the fish, otherwise it becomes too tough, so stir any stew halfway through to ensure the meat at the outside gets the same degree of heat as that in the middle.

Red mullet is a fish I like best when somebody else is cooking it - filleting and plucking the little pinbones is a nightmare. One of the real bargains at this time of year, of course, is wild salmon. I have taken to barbecuing extra as a matter of course for the sake of the next day's sandwich: on granary with lots of home-made mayonnaise with a hint of Pernod or Ricard in it. And a glass thereof.

Tuna and Potato Stew, serves 4

This is dry as opposed to soupy and is also delicious served cold as a salad.

1 12 lbs./700 gms new potatoes

sea salt, black pepper

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions, peeled, halved and diced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 heaped tsp finely chopped ginger

1 heaped tsp finely chopped red chilli

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 heaped tsp thyme leaves

1 12 lb/700g tuna

10 oz/275g tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced

To serve: finely chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 170C (fan oven)/180 C (electric oven) 360 F/Gas Mark 4. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Peel the potatoes and thinly slice. Add them to the pan, bring back to the boil and cook for 1 minute, then drain, season and keep to one side.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the onions and cook for 6-8 minutes, add the garlic, ginger and chilli halfway through. Add the vinegar and lemon juice and cook this off. Remove from the heat, season and add the thyme.

Remove the skin and bones from the tuna and cut into 34 in/112 cm. cubes, season. Place the potatoes, onion, tuna and tomato in a casserole and cover.

You can prepare it in advance to this point. Cook for 35 minutes: stir halfway through, also before you serve it, there should be some juices in the bottom. Serve sprinkled with parsley.

Spice-Fried Monkfish, serves 4

I usually serve the fish on top of grilled slices of aubergine marinated with groundnut oil, dark soy sauce, ginger, garlic, shallot and chilli.

Marinaded Aubergine

2 aubergines

extra virgin olive oil for grilling

8 tbsp groundnut oil

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 rounded tbsp finely chopped ginger

1 rounded tbsp finely chopped garlic

1 rounded tbsp finely chopped shallot or onion

1 level tsp finely chopped red chilli


2 lbs/900g monkfish (thick section)

2 heaped tbsp flour

2 heaped tsp freshly ground cumin

2 heaped tsp freshly ground coriander

12 tsp turmeric

14 tsp cayenne pepper

1 heaped tsp sea salt

extra-virgin olive oil for frying

Remove the monkfish from the bone in two long sections. The best way to do this is to cut downwards next to the central bone, but not through the skin at the base, you should then be able to ease the knife between the skin and the flesh to separate them. Cut the monkfish on the bias into medallions 1in/2.5cm thick.

Combine the flour, spices and seasoning in a shallow bowl. Fry the monkfish in two lots or in two pans: heat some olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat, coat the monkfish in the flour and fry for 3 minutes on each side until crispy and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with lemon wedges

Next week: squid ink, scallops and seabass