Getting the perfect batter starts with the prep and every shop owner has their own take on what’s involved
There are many aspects that go into producing top quality fish and chips and up there in the top three, along with oil and fish is, of course, batter.
Calvin Harris, national sales manager at South Yorkshire-based food coatings and mixes company Rupert’s Ingredients, says the role of batter should never be underestimated. “It helps fish retain its moisture and prevents it from drying out while in the fryer, but it also adds flavour and that all-important crunchy texture that reaffirms its freshness,” he says. “But it’s got to look right as well as taste right as it’s the first thing a customer sees and it’s what your food will be judged on.”
Getting it right is something Carlo Crolla, owner of East Coast Fish & Chips in Musselburgh, East Lothian, can relate to. “The last thing any customer wants is a perfect crispy batter one week and a sogfest the next,” he remarks. “Getting it right is of the utmost importance because each time it’s right, the customer returns, the customer sings your praises, the customer enjoys. Happy customer equals happy owner, so consistency is key.”
When Carlo rebranded his restaurant to East Coast in 2018, he changed everything, including switching to Middleton’s batter mix. This in itself, wasn’t the end of it, however.
“You need to make sure your water is cold and doesn’t heat up too much so don’t make loads of it,” Carlo explains. “You can refrigerate and store it too and it needs to be a nice thin batter (use of a flow cup helps).”
Never ever use batter from the previous day, he stresses, and ensure everyone making the batter mix gets it spot on every time. Carlo adds: “There is a bit more work in using a thin batter mix, especially if you want an even consistency over the fish, but if you want it perfect you need to be willing to put in the extra effort.”
Customer comments about East Coast’s new batter exceeded even what Carlo had imagined, adding. “Great feedback can also help you through the harder days!”
Tiffany Irvin, owner of The Fish Works in Largs, North Ayrshire, believes that achieving the perfect batter helps her shop stand out from others. Opening her business on Largs Promenade in 2017 and being new to the trade, she trialled various batters until she came across Middleton’s Golden Batter Mix. “It suited the type of batter we were going for, which was more of a golden, crispy batter which isn’t traditional to Scotland,” she says.
Ensuring their batter is always made with fresh, cold water, staff use a flow cup and timer to ensure consistency. “This guarantees the batter is always at the right consistency – not too thick or too thin – when it’s being made by several team members,” she says.“We also make our batter in small fresh batches to ensure it does not deteriorate over time.”
During hot days, the team put ice packs under their batter tray liner to keep the batter cooler – a tip Tiffany took from Stuart Devine, operations manager at The Ashvale in Aberdeen, during the shop’s first Quality Award inspection.
Attention to detail
Sharing Tiffany’s attention to detail is Dan Edwards, owner of Chips @ No.8 in Prestwich, Manchester. He makes batter to his own recipe, adding sparkling water and beer, and is pedantic about everything. For example, dry mixes are weighed out to the gram and stored in 2ltr plastic tubs in a dedicated freezer, and liquids are kept in the fridge until needed and are measured to the millilitre.
“We want the batter to be as cold as possible so if the batter dry mix starts at -25°C, then when we mix it with the liquids at 2-3°C, the temperature pretty much stays at that.”
Staff only mix two litres at a time to keep a low temperature which means on a Friday night, it’s pretty much someone’s sole responsibility.
“Keeping it as cold as possible causes the hot oil to shock the cold batter, creating an effervescent crispy, wispy batter,” Dan explains. He also finds resting fresh batter for 10 minutes in the fridge before using allows the gluten to relax.
If you think you know everything there is to know about batter, think again. With new mixes always being developed and batter by its very nature being changeable, there’s always something new to learn, as Fred Capel, owner of Chez Fred in Bournemouth, found recently when he started using Ceres Natural Batter.
Digging a little deeper to understand more about the components that make up flour and how the different variables, such as protein and moisture content, affect its performance, Fred now stores his batter in his office rather than the storeroom.
He comments: “I don’t think people understand how much the way batter is stored impacts on the quality. Just putting it in a cold storeroom, or on a damp patch, for example, can activate the raising agent in the flour. I’ve found since keeping ours in a warm environment, some of the moisture is released so the colour and fry I’m getting are beautiful.”
While everyone is in pursuit of “the perfect batter”, what this actually means will be different for each shop. Therefore, it’s important to try different batters along with different methods and find what works for your shop.
Ceres Pure Food Innovation 0845 3711 522 www.worldofceres.com
Middleton Food Products 01902 608122 www.middletonfoods.com
Rupert’s Ingredients 01709 891033 www.rupertsingredients.com
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