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Fried and True 

Gluten-free fish and chips

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The British are not really known for creative additions to the world's culinary scene, but fish and chips became traditional pub fare for a reason. And few dishes go better with a warm fire in the wood stove on a rainy North Coast winter night than a hot, crispy batch of fish and chips. There are many ways to fry a fish and just as many folks out there claiming that their recipe is the best. The recipe below is both simple and delicious, and as far as being "the best," well, I think it so but I'll let you decide. Using a beer batter with rice flour rather than wheat, you'll get rockfish that's golden-brown and perfectly crispy every time. If you are looking for a healthy meal filled with nutrients and vitamins ... maybe make a salad tonight. But if you're in the mood to splurge on some fantastic pub food, this is the recipe for you. Bonus: If you, a relative or a friend happens to be gluten intolerant, you can still enjoy this classic (condiments notwithstanding).

When you are looking for spuds for making delicious chips to accompany your fish, I give my recommendation to our local organic and sustainable farms. I used to work at Paul Guintoli's Warren Creek Farms, and the memory of pulling massive russet potatoes out of the earth and stacking crate after crate of those organic spuds is firmly and fondly rooted in my mind. I once asked Guintoli how he grew such large, healthy potatoes, to which he replied with a chuckle, "Don't water them!" I thought he was joking at first, but he uses an ancient technique called "dry farming" whereby alluvial sediments are specifically tilled to promote rapid root growth right down into the water table. Sure, you can use any old potato, but in my opinion our local farmers grow the tastiest.

As far as the fish is concerned, you can get many local line-caught fish at markets like Wildberries, the Northcoast Co-op or Ray's. If you are an angler, even better. Though traditionally fish and chips are made with cod, California has no native true cod. My favorite local species to use in this dish are lingcod, cabezon, vermillion rockfish (commonly referred to as "red snapper") and black rockfish (occasionally referred to as "black snapper"). Each of these will make lip-smacking fish and chips that will be remembered for years to come (no joke — friends and relatives often reminisce about them). Keep in mind that this beer batter can also be used to fry small cubes of fish for fish tacos.

Gluten-free Fish and Chips

Serves 4.

Ingredients and method:

4 medium russet potatoes

Canola or other heart-healthy oil (not olive, as it cannot take high heat)

2 pounds boneless fish fillets

1 cup rice flour (and extra for dredging)

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon mild chipotle chili powder

1 gluten-free beer (I prefer Omission pale ale)

Lemon wedges

Condiments: Ketchup, tartar sauce and/or malt vinegar

For the chips

These take more prep and cook time, so cook them before the fish.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¼-inch-thick and 2- to 4-inch-long sticks. Cover them with water and set aside. If you leave these exposed to the air for more than a few minutes, the surface will oxidize and your fries-to-be will turn brown like apple slices left out on the counter. CAUTION: Before frying, dry your soaked potato wedges by thoroughly dabbing with a paper towel. If you do not, the added moisture will cause the oil to splatter and pop everywhere, making a dangerous mess.

Next, heat at least 2 inches of oil in the bottom of a pot over medium-high or high heat (depending on your stove). Have some clean paper bags or paper towels stacked on a plate nearby to drain your fried morsels. You will know the oil is ready when you dip the end of one of the fires in and it sizzles rapidly. Drop this tester fry in — it should sink almost to the bottom before floating back to the surface where it will remain and cook. If your oil starts to smoke, it is too hot. Side note: When frying anything, it is always smart to keep a box of baking soda on hand, as smothering a potential grease fire with the stuff, or covering the fire with a metal lid, is still the quickest and safest way to put it out.

Once the fries are cooked (about 20 minutes) and cooling on the paper, fry them again. To make a good batch of French fries or "chips," you must fry your potatoes twice. There are some who doubt this age-old wisdom and they routinely make soggy, unappetizing excuses for fries. Trust me; fry the spuds twice and you will not regret it. Once your chips are golden brown and perfectly crispy, sprinkle them with sea salt or mix things up a bit by adding some diced chives and/or garlic. Set them aside in a 150 F oven while you get to the fish.

For the fish

In a bowl, mix the rice flour, salt and chili powder. Stir in just enough beer to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter.

Next, cut your boneless filets into 2-by-4-inch strips or 2-by-2-inch chunks. Dust these in rice flour, dip them in the batter so they are thoroughly coated and add them to your perfectly heated oil. A drip of batter before you add the fish can be first used to test the heat of the oil. Once the first piece of fish is golden brown all over, extract it from the oil using a strainer spoon and place it on a bed of paper towels or clean paper bags to drain. Once it has cooled a bit, break this piece in half to be sure that the fish flakes with ease all the way through the center, indicating that it is fully cooked. Eat this tester piece while no one is looking so they don't get jealous. Now fry the rest of your fish. Serve your beautiful, golden-brown, crispy fish and chips with a side of lemon wedges, tartar sauce, ketchup and malt vinegar.


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Kevin Smith

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