Struan chose fish and chips as the Desert Island Dish that most reminds him of his childhood. And my goodness what a delicious choice. Food is, for so many people so much more than just about the food itself. Food is all about memory and context and that’s why I love asking these questions so much. You can be eating the best meal in the world, but if you are bored by the people you are with then the food just doesn’t have the impact that perhaps it could if you were sitting there with a great friend, catching up and setting the world to rights.
Struan talked about eating fish and chips with his dad in front of the TV, having just been to the fish and chip shop or on holiday, sitting on a bench in front of the sea. We know that food is so evocative of memory and perhaps none more so than fish and chips. Often eaten by the sea, on Summer holidays, you can almost feel the wind on your cheeks and feel that crunch of sea salt in your hair at just the mention of the words fish and chips. You are instantly transported to licking salty fingers with a smudge of grease on your cheek, dunking chips in ketchup and fighting over mushy peas.
Just the smell of Malt vinegar can transport me back to the fish and chip shop in Devon where we spent every Summer of my childhood. We would tootle up the estuary on my dad’s boat eager for the food awaiting us. A squabble would no doubt break out along the way and dead arms and Chinese burns would ensue. But then we would sit, all huddled together watching the setting Summer sun and merrily stuffing our faces as we chatted and laughed.
I actually currently have a problem. It’s a first world problem, but a problem nonetheless. There is a fish and chip shop at the end of my road. (Pause for dramatic effect). But the thing is, every time, every single time I venture outdoors I am hit by the warm and welcoming scent of malt vinegar and crispy chips. Like a siren call, they cry out to me. Sure, I could go in. But it would be a slippery slope. I know myself too well to know that I cannot be trusted to go in. One trip will turn into two, two will turn into daily visits and before I know it I will know the names of the owners children and will be inviting him to my wedding. I have a solution, in case you’re interested. I simply take a deep breath before I leave the house, and refuse to catch the e
ye of the chips until I am safely passed and all I can smell is car exhausts and the general odour of the city. Only then am I safe.
Struan said his order would always be the same; large cod, large chips and curry sauce. Struan vetoed the battered sausage (which is what I always used to order). Having seen his order, I’m not sure he would entirely approve of today’s recipe. My train of thought went like this; I cannot compete with the chippy down the road. As Struan said, fish and chips is a great leveller, because whilst you get fancy ones and less fancy ones, as long as they have fresh fish, proper batter and well cooked chips, there isn’t much to separate them. It’s ingredients led cooking at it’s best.
So I thought instead I would do a recipe for the kind of fish and chips I do actually regularly make at home. I love tempura batter, which is light and crispy and I think is beautiful on the cod. Sweet potato chips are not the same as potato chips. It would be weird to argue otherwise, but I do find them a bit lighter, and easier on the old stomach and they do taste great. The minted peas is one of my favourite things and of course we have to have tartare sauce. So this is very much not traditional fish and chips, nor should it replace it, but it is delicious and very easy to make at home should you so wish.
Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, it’s all far simpler than it looks.