Pub Night: Cajun Oven Fried Fish & Chips with Tomato and Roasted Jalapeno Tartar Sauce
Our last Date Night was at Wendy’s. No, that’s not a joke. We all have our various comfort foods that we get cravings for once in a while, and for Mike apparently that means fish’n'chips. Real fish’n'chips, mind you, not Captain Highliner and McCain’s crispy fries. After another busy week of doing just about everything other than spending time together, I had a “DATE NIGHT! JUST MIKE AND TINA!” highlighted in our calendar. Being a bit of a dictator, I usually decide what we do on date nights, but this time I left it entirely in Mike’s hands. He had one goal, just one single craving for date night, and that was fish and chips. Ergo, we left the house at about 8 pm and headed to our local British fish and chips house.
They were closed.
That’s alright though! Never the kind to be discouraged, we buckled back in and headed another 700 meters down the street. One “good” thing about living in the suburbs, particularly a WASPy suburb like ours, is the proliferation of local home made and traditional fish and chip eateries. The next Chippy was closed too.
For the next half hour we drove around town, stopping by every fish and chips shop that we had ever been to, as well as the ones that we had simply driven by were reluctant to enter given the choice. Nothing was open. Apparently the one thing that we failed to take into consideration on said Date Night was the fact that the average Chippy in our locality closed down at, well, 6 pm on a Saturday night. Indeed.
Despite the obvious indication that we were going to fail our mission for good old fashioned fish and chips, we soldiered on. And on. AND ON. Into the next township we went, and then into the one after that. After almost an hour of fruitless searching, we finally relented and came to terms with the fact that there was no light and crispy beer battered haddock in our future, and we were going to have to settle. ‘Settle’, we most certainly did, because the closest facsimile that we could find to good home made fish and chips was…….a Wendy’s Premium Fish Fillet Sandwich (hand-cut fillets of North Pacific cod in a crisp Panko breading! Or so they say). Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
Note: This was in no way an adequate substitute for fish’n'chips. We knew that going in to the deal.
Note 2: Mike still rather resents the fact that I easily settled into the change of plans with an exclamation of, “Oooh, a BAKED POTATO! My FAVORITE!”
Ever since then, I’ve been working on a way to make Mike a Tina-fied version of fish and chips at home. The main problems, of course, being that I drink all the beer before it can go into an adequate batter, and I don’t deep fry. That’s okay though, right? There are countless iterations of oven fried fish out there. You know, there’s the fish covered in smashed Cornflake crumbs. Oh, or the fish covered in smashed Ritz cracker crumbs. Huh. Okay, what about the fish covered in smashed potato chip crumbs? No. I didn’t think so either.
I knew that there had to be a solution, however, that would yield lower fat baked fish and chips that was still crispy on the outside but with a lighter and fluffier coating. Something, oh, I don’t know…..something almost souffle like that would hold it’s body. Enter an ancient memory of a recipe from Ruby’s Low-Fat Soul Food Cookbook from my parents’ house, and all of a sudden it’s stiffly peaked egg whites and crunchy cornmeal coating. Oh, and flavor. I should have mentioned the flavor, because as good as fish and chips can be, crispy and crunchy CAJUN battered fish and chips are even better. Just sayin’.
This week’s pub night is a lightened up version of a Cajun fish fry, complete with potato wedges and a spicy little tartar sauce on the side which is creamy enough to belie the relatively low ratio of heavy fats to flavor. Next time, I promise, I will keep trying my hand at a traditional English style pub classic, the fish’n'chip. This time, however, roasted jalapenos are calling my name……
Cajun Oven Fried Fish & Chips with Tomato and Roasted Jalapeno Tartar Sauce
Cajun Oven Fried Fish
- 2.5 lb boneless and skinless cod *
- 3 egg whites
- 3/4 cup yogurt
- 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3/4 tsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
- 1/2 tsp onion powder (not onion salt)
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/8 tsp cayenne
- salt (~1/2 tsp) and pepper (~1/4 tsp) to taste
Tomato and Roasted Jalapeno Tartar Sauce
- 3 large jalapeno peppers
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
- 4 large cloves garlic
- 1 can (15.5 oz) diced tomatoes
- 1/4 medium red onion
- juice from 1/2 lime
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 lb starchy yellow fleshed potatoes
- 3 tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
- salt and pepper
* Although I’m partial to a meaty cod, this light method of “breading” fish is well suited to a thin but firm fleshed fish as well. If you would prefer to use tilapia or even catfish fillets, feel free to do so but be sure to reduce the cooking time as they would cook up in about 10 minutes flat. If you do want the big, thick fish you could substitute bass or halibut. This will be about one large packaged fillet, or roughly enough to slice into 6 goodly sized portions of 6 oz each.
Preheat your oven to 450°F.
Toss the jalapenos with one (1) teaspoon of oil and place them on a baking sheet in the center of your oven. Roast the jalapenos for 15-20 minutes, or until they are charred, blistered, and the skin is beginning to peel away.
Take the jalapenos out of the oven until they are cool enough to handle, and turn the temperature in your oven down to 400ºF.
While the jalapenos roast, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a fairly large pan set over medium heat.
Finely mince the garlic and add this to the oil as it starts to heat up. Fry the garlic, stirring regularly, until it is fragrant and golden brown. Pour in the can of diced tomatoes and all of their accumulated juices.
Cook the tomatoes down for 10 minutes, or until they are pulpy and have almost completely broken down.
Slice the stem off of the jalapenos and peel the blistered skin off before finely mincing the flesh (seeds and all if you like it hot). Add this to the tomato mixture.
Let the tomatoes bubble and simmer away for another 5-10 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened up and started to dry out. While the tomatoes cook, finely (yes, FINELY!) mince the quarter red onion.
When the tomato mixture is cooked and thick enough, you should be able to draw a line on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and have this stay without filling in for 10-15 seconds. Add the finely minced red onion and squeeze in the juice of half a lime. Immediately take the mixture off the stove and let this cool for 10-15 minutes until it is fundamentally at room temperature.
Dollop in the mayonnaise (regular or light) and stir until combined. Place the mixture in the fridge to chill until you’re ready to serve the fish.
Tomato and Roasted Jalapeno Tartar Sauce? Done.
Cut each potato into 6-8 wedges, each about 1/2″ thick and toss with the oil and a liberal amount of salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes out into an even layer on 1-2 baking sheets and tuck them into the oven to start cooking for 15 minutes before the fish, because that’s approximately how long it will take you to make the breading, whip the eggs, and smother your fish.
In a fairly large and shallow dish, combine the cornmeal with the herbs, spices, salt and pepper. Swirl this around with your fingertips until the flavors are evenly dispersed.
Rinse a metal bowl out with soap and cool water. Dry it thoroughly and then moisten a small quarter piece of paper towel with white vinegar. Wipe the inside of the bowl out with this. You don’t have to do this step, but it really helps to ensure that your egg whites are fluffy because if there is any fat or protein in the bowl it will prevent them from whipping up to their full potential. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Dollop the yogurt into your egg whites and use a broad spatula to gently fold one into the other until you have a homogeneous mixture.
Rinse the fish and pat it down as dry as possible. Season both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Dip the fish into the egg white mixture and shake off any excess. Gently lower the fish into the cornmeal mixture and turn it over to coat all sides. If some of the egg white batter slides off and lands in the cornmeal, simply scoop it up and patch up any barren patches of fish.
Lay the breaded fish down on a flat baking sheet which has either been greased or sprayed well with non-stick spray (like PAM).
Put the fish into the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes for a thick fillet (or only 6-10 if you have a thin fish), or until the fish flakes easily when pierced with a fork.
When the fish is cooked, take it out and loosely tent with tinfoil before cranking the heat on your oven up to 525ºF. Don’t wrap the tinfoil tightly or the fish will start to steam and your crispy crust will get soggy.
By now your potatoes should be fork tender and just starting to get golden brown. Turn them over in the pan and put them back to roast in your super-hot oven for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until they’re slightly puffed, browned and crispy looking.
Serve a piece of fish with a side of oven fried chips and a generous portion of the tomato and roasted jalapeno tartar sauce on the side. A wedge of lemon or two certainly wouldn’t hurt.
You can’t go wrong with a flavorful coating that is delectably crusty and crunchy but still suspiciously light. I’m telling you, egg whites are a secret weapon. Use them with caution, lest one day you go to make a soufflé and the whole Western world explodes. True story. It could happen.
The spicy and flavorful crust is so compelling that you might soon forget that you were every craving greasy ol’ fish from the Chippy at all! Now if only I could stop thinking about the Baconator Double value meal, my healthy eating goals might be much further along….