Our quest to cook all of Heston’s In Search of Perfection thunders on with a botched attempt at Heston Blumenthal’s Perfect Fish and Chips recipe.
UPDATE: This post shows you how NOT to make Heston’s Perfection Fish & Chips recipe (or at least how to make it very, very badly). If you’d like to see how we made Heston’s Fish & Chips recipe to absolute perfection, please click here.
If, instead, you’d like to see our clumsy first attempt and find out which mistakes you want to avoid when making this dish then please read on…
So far we’ve made 6 of Heston’s In Search of Perfection dishes, all as closely as possible to his specific, complex and detailed recipes.
They’re all quite demanding. Heston’s Perfect Bolognese recipe will destroy your arm muscles through 2 hours of concentrated chopping. Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken recipe is a Sunday lunch that has to be started on Friday night. Heston’s Perfect Bangers and Mash and Perfection Treacle Tart recipes make a great double bill if you’re happy to work from dawn ‘til dusk. Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe will put your oven out-of-bounds for 24 hours.
What we’re saying is that all these recipes, if done correctly by following Heston’s very exact, prescribed instructions, are a significant and time-consuming undertaking. Which is why we were surprised to read that Heston Blumenthal’s Perfect Fish and Chips recipe from In Search of Perfection could be done in a couple of hours (with a bit of prep the night before).
Bring it on, Heston! We’ll make your In Search of Perfection Fish and Chips recipe, and we’ll make it on a week night! And hey, we’ll add your Mushy Pea recipe while we’re at it! In fact, Heston, we’re feeling so confident that we’ll even make your awkward Lemon Tart recipe from Heston at Home for dessert too. The 10pm Supper Club is open on a week night, and we’re more than up to the challenge!
This is what we’re aiming to serve, the dish as it appears in the In Search of Perfection recipe book:
Now, sit back and watch us make a mess of it…
Here’s the episode of In Search of Perfection with Heston making his Perfect Fish & Chip recipe:
Recipes: Heston’s Perfect Fish and Chips recipe, Heston’s Mushy Peas recipe
Special Equipment: Soda/ whipping siphon + CO2 charges, deep fryer (optional)
Special Ingredients: Turbot, Rice Flour
Time: 9 hours (over 2 days)
We’ve already discussed how to make Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips in a separate post. We made a few alterations this time, with much worse results.
Although we made this meal over the course of 2 week nights you could make both this and Heston’s Lemon Custard Tart recipe in a single frantic day.
Step 1: Peeling and Boiling the Chips (Day 1)
The Heston Blumenthal Triple Cooked Chips recipe is legendary. Not just for the taste, but for the sheer amount of bloody work that goes into simply making some chips.
It’s our duty to tell you that the first stage of the process is the most crucial part. Heston’s triple cooked chips take about 7 or 8 hours to make, and you can completely screw them up within the first hour. Just like we did.
You’re best off using Maris Pipers, although we thought we’d try Marabels, which were completely wrong. Peel the spuds and cut them into chunky wedges (you can square off the peeled potatoes if you fancy better presentation / more work). The chips need to be quite big. The crusts that form will be thick, so thin chips will be all crust and no fluffy centre.
The potatoes need to be brought to the boil then carefully simmered until they start to break up. Simmering is less aggressive than a rolling boil, so means you’re less likely to break the chips into mush. You want the spuds to be almost falling apart. This will give them a cracked, broken surface that creates the crunchy triple-cooked effect. It’s why the boiling stage is the most important stage of cooking Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips.
We’ve found cooking the potatoes takes from 15 to 30 minutes. Some potatoes will be falling apart while and at the same time others will look barely cooked. In our experience you literally have to stand over the pan and rescue each chip with a slotted spoon when you think it’s ready. Yes, each individual chip.
The chips will be very fragile when you take them out. Lay them carefully on a cake rack and let the steam come off them. When they’re completely cold you can put the entire cake rack into the fridge. In Heston’s updated recipe he says you can save time by using the freezer. We used this quicker method and it didn’t seem to work as well.
Step 2: First Fry (Day 1)
After an hour in the freezer (or two hours in the fridge) the chips are ready for the fryer. Our chip pan’s heat was too high, so these were cooked at closer to 160°C than 130°. Whoops. We’d kinda ruined our chances of them turning out right by this point anyways.
Fry for about 4 minutes. You don’t want them to change colour. A lighter blonde is about as far as you can go.
Lots of moisture bubbles is a good sign, as you want to drive off water at every stage to get the right result. Losing water does mean your triple cooked chips will shrink during the various stages, expect them to be much smaller than the chunky wedges of potato you cut when you started this recipe.
After this cool the chips on a cake rack as before, then return to the fridge for another 2 hours, or the freezer for one hour.
Step 3: Batter Mix (Day 2)
Now this is the easy bit. The flour is a 50/50 mix of plain and rice flour, with a dash of baking powder. You mix this with some honey (which’ll help add colour since the frying time is so short) and nearly half a bottle of vodka to get this chunky slurry.
Why vodka? Well, the batter won’t start crisping up until all the liquid has boiled off. Alcohol, being more volatile than H2O, will burn off quicker. Vodka has less flavour than other spirits, which makes it the perfect choice. Vodka isn’t cheap – you’re literally boiling money away into thin air.
Luckily I’d been given a free bottle last Christmas (I kinda hinted towards vodka specifically for this recipe, you guys wouldn’t believe how many unopened Christmas-gift bottles of Jack Daniels I’ve stockpiled over the past 4 years in preparation for the Perfection Chilli Con Carne).
Now crack open your lager and quickly mix it into the batter. Working fast prevents too many bubbles from being lost, and bubbles are the crucial part of the batter in Heston’s Perfect Fish and Chips recipe, as more bubbles result in the crunchiest batter possible. Think of an oily Aero made of flour – sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
Decant the lot into a soda siphon and then charge with three CO2 cartridges. The recipe is designed for a 1 litre soda siphon. Even if you’re only making this for two people you absolutely cannot halve the ingredients if you are using a 1 litre siphon. If you did there’d be too much empty space inside the siphon and the CO2 charging won’t work (physicists & siphon engineers are free to correct me).
A word of warning: if you’re like us then you bought a cheap soda siphon on ebay. Maybe yours has a knackered pressure seal on it too. So maybe yours likes to start spraying out batter once you add the second CO2 charge. If so then be sure to charge your siphon over the sink and be ready for it to start spurting all over the show like Flower Tucci. Our wall still needs repainting from the first time we tried this recipe.
Rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes Which is a good time to start…
Step 4: Mushy Peas (Day 2)
Heston’s Mushy Peas recipe isn’t strictly a part of Heston’s Perfect Fish & Chips recipe, but after the Bangers & Mash and treacle Tart double bill we just couldn’t face another yellowy-brown meal. Especially not with Heston’s yellowy-brown Lemon Tart recipe for dessert.
Heston’s Mushy Pea recipe is quite easy to make. It has exactly 4 ingredients (plus seasoning). Defrost the peas (frozen are best), and set aside about ¼ of them for finishing.
Put the remaining ¾ in a pan with water and 75g butter. That was another reason for including this dish, how can you have a Heston Blumenthal perfection recipe that doesn’t end with lots of novelty butter? Heat until all the water has evaporated and the peas are warm.
These aren’t strictly mushy peas, more a rough pea puree. After the hand blender treatment I was bloody dreading having to get the sieve out. Instead you simply fold in the reserved whole peas and some chopped mint leaves. Season enthusiastically and you’re done.
The peas should be kept covered to keep them warm until serving, but even a low heat will cause them to turn a bit brown. To preserve the colour either heat them at the end or, if you’ve a spare bowl and a love of faffing, rig up a lidded bain marie on a low heat.
Step 5: Second Chip Frying (Day 2)
They just need a final fry for 8ish minutes in 180°C oil. Then drain on kitchen paper and keep warm.
By now, with the wrong variety under-boiled, badly-chilled, over-fried and poorly rested there wasn’t much hope for our triple cooked chips.
Step 6: Frying the Fish (Day 2)
You’re meant to use fillets from a 1.1kg turbot, but the biggest fish Leigh Morrisons could supply us with was 900g, which is why the fillets looked even more anemic than we were expecting. Not the thick, meaty fish we prefer.
Dry, dust in rice flour and then start blasting out batter into a shallow bowl, ready for dunking.
Only dispense as much batter as you need for each fillet, it loses precious fizz outside the siphon.
The fish is fried 2 minutes on one side then a minute on the other. All the while you’re meant to drizzle more batter on to create a crunchy crust.
Be very careful when doing this. It’s best to drizzle the batter around the edges of the fish. Too much of this will create insulation that’ll give you spongy undercooked batter, rather than the shatteringly crisp stuff you’re looking for.
Step 7: Assembling (Day 2)
The fish and the chips can only be cooked one portion at a time. Transfer everything to a baking sheet in a low, warm oven while you work. The fish fillets should take about five minutes each (including the time to clear the oil and batter each fillet). The chips take about 10 minutes per portion.
With the peas reheated (oops) you can start to plate up before spritzing the chips with pickled onion vinegar.
A bit like his adding coffee beans to vanilla ice cream recipes this is another nostalgic preference for Heston Blumenthal. His favorite childhood chippie would season their fish and chips with malt vinegar from the pickled onion jar.
Heston gives you the option to create a multisensory experience by spraying the pickled onion vinegar around the room / into your guests hair and eyes We skipped that. He does suggest you serve your fish and chips with lemon. We tried to rescue this meal with some nifty presentation wrapping our lemon halves in mulsin (clearly just a hair net).
And there you have it, Heston’s Perfect Fish and Chips recipe, with mushy peas, from In Search of Perfection is ready.
Hasa Diga Eebowai! There wasn’t a single bit of this dish we managed to get completely right. Time for a humiliating look at how we failed at each separate bit.
In the places where the batter worked it really was astonishingly crunchy. Easily the crispiest batter you can make using standard home equipment – that’s if we’re allowed to call a soda siphon “standard” equipment.
Drizzling extra batter on is a tricky business. Aim to work around the edge of the fish not on top, or you’ll just insulate the half-cooked batter and it’ll come out as a soggy mush. We had this problem in places, particularly in a spot where I kept trying to patch up a hole in the batter.
Our fish was slightly overcooked. Probably because our turbot fillets were a fraction too thin – our whole turbot was 200g lighter than the size Heston advises. That said, we prefer our fish cooked slightly above the 45°C that the recipe aims for.
Turbot itself is a fine fish, and we love eating it, but it seems wasted here. We reckon you’d get on better with briefly-cured cod or haddock. Just don’t tell Hugh.
Our batter was overly dark. We reckon this was because we’d used some old, rock solid honey from the back of the cupboard. It needed simmering for 30 minutes to get it back into liquid form, by which time it had turned nut brown. They honey is meant to add colour due to the short frying time, too much colour in our case.
Would we make fish this way again? Maybe. But for it to become a regular thing I’d need to get lots more free Christmas vodka.
An absolute disaster. Soft, flaccid skins with the texture of greasy burger wrappers. It was like eating a Five Guys bag filled with undercooked mash.
We reckon this is because we used completely the wrong type of potato. We’d picked a larger variety of spud in an effort to make decent sized chips. They didn’t respond well to boiling, the most crucial stage in making Heston Blumenthal Triple Cooked Chips.
It’s absolutely vital that you use potatoes with the right amount of dry matter (the stuff that makes a potato waxy or floury). You also want to cut your chips into quite chunky portions. The crusts can get quite thick, so you do want to have some smooth potato centre, not just all crunch. Maris Piper only from now on.
Thankfully we’ve made them perfectly before, so we weren’t too hurt by this failure. And it was a good reminder of all the ways in which it’s easy to mess up the recipe.
Two days later I made some more, to exorcise the demons of this failure.
These are not mushy peas. This is pea puree with bursts of whole pea flavour – plus some butter, mint and seasoning. Also, these weren’t warm either. I’d paid too much notice to Heston’s warning about too much heat destroying the vibrant green colour – I didn’t warm them thoroughly enough and the mushy peas were barely tepid when we served them.
Heston’s Mushy Pea recipe is really easy to make, and pretty cheap too. We’d definitely use less butter next time, but this recipe is good enough and simple enough to be worth repeating. Not true mushy peas, but tasty all the same. Just make sure they’re warm.
We eat fish and chips about twice a year. We go to a place called Colmans in South Shields. It’s one of those Top-Ten-in-the-UK places and the fish & chips they serve looks like this:
Light batter, fresh ingredients and fantastic flavours, it’s the best fish and chips we’ve ever eaten. Here’s the Colmans website. If you’re ever in the area you should definitely go.
This was the exact opposite: an unpleasant and heavy meal with poor, oily chips, greasy batter and overly-buttery peas. It shows how a few mistakes in technique can ruin a meal.
On the other hand, if you can get it right, Heston’s Lemon Tart recipe is exceptional.
You bet your fucking ass we’ll be making this recipe again. Not because I particularly want to, but because we’ve made 7 of Heston’s Perfection recipes so far and I refuse to be beaten by “the easy one”. We’ve already got most of the ingredients in the cupboard anyways.
With properly made chips and a more careful drizzling of the batter Heston’s fish and chips recipe would be truly excellent. Check back after we’ve made it again.
Is fish and chips worth all this effort?Or have you got a favourite fish and chip recipe you like? Maybe you’d just like to slag off our feeble attempt at this recipe. For all that and more may we direct you to the comments section…