The Australian tradition of eating fish and chips on a Friday night was something I had been oblivious to until I changed schools in Grade 4. The four years of Catholic schooling I had already had, taught me that I should eat fish on Fridays during Lent and pancakes on Pancake Tuesday – Lenten practices I believed to be of the utmost importance. It was my food education more than my Catholic education that resonated with me in this very multicultural school, where almost all of the world’s nations were represented and international food days were many. And it was here that a boy by the name of Joseph Chow (always with best friend, Ernest, in tow) relentlessly pursued me each lunchtime, declaring that because he and I were good at maths and spelling, we should ‘be together’, and that he would not leave me alone until ‘you admit that you love me’. Poor Joseph Chow. Poor me! Think of the life we could have had… all that maths and spelling!
I hadn’t realised how multicultural this school had been until I arrived at my new school in suburban Bayside. This school meant three things for me: I could continue using the pen licence I was granted at my previous school (after my new teacher, Mr Brooks, held up an example of my writing to the class, much to my horror); that said teacher would never cease to call me ‘Dingo Dominiguez’, a name he proudly created for me because he couldn’t say my actual name; and that my salami or canned mussel sandwiches would never be accepted by the other kids, for whom Vegemite and cheese sandwiches were the norm. The only ‘ethnics’ (I learnt this word in Bayside) at my new school were myself, my little sister, Ashley Sanchez, and a poor boy named Jesus, who didn’t last very long. Apparently the little ones couldn’t understand how Jesus had been born in a manger, grew up, performed miracles, was crucified, resurrected, resided up in heaven, then came down to Earth as a 6-year-old in order to attend their school.
Ashley Sanchez, like Joseph Chow, decided that we best ‘get together’. After all, he was Spanish, I was half-Spanish – it made perfect sense! The fact that I was a whole head taller than Ashley and that we were about 9-years-old, deterred me from such a commitment. Another opportunity for true love missed… perhaps not.
While in my first lonely year at this strange school I spent most of my time in the library, safely eating my salami sandwiches and reading ridiculous amounts of Baby-Sitters Club books, I did learn that almost all families in this part of town ate fish and chips on a Friday night, and not just during Lent. This greasy feast was usually purchased from the take-out joint near Fu-King Chinese Restaurant (yes, it was truly called that), by the beach.
In my bid to fit in, I explained this tradition to my wayward parents, who had clearly done me the disservice of feeding me all kinds of other foods on a Friday night (as well as giving me the name from which ‘Dingo Dominiguez’ was borne.) We went along to school fetes on a Friday night, where everyone delighted in this feast of fish and chips. I enthusiastically partook in these events with the fam, eventually made friends (after they realised I could recite all of the words to a certain Vanilla Ice song) and Grade 5 wasn’t so bad.
So, I give to you, my version of Friday night fish and chips.
1 sweet potato
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground, black pepper
1 cup plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons fresh herbs (such as parsley, chives, mint and/or dill), chopped
zest of 1 lemon
4 large pieces of boneless, white fish
1 ½ cups whole-egg mayonnaise
1 teaspoon capers
vegetable or sunflower oil for frying
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Wash and then cut the sweet potato into wedge-sized pieces. You may wish to peel the skin, but I love the added flavour so tend to leave this on. Place the potatoes onto a baking tray and drizzle some olive oil over the top. It terms of an exact amount, it’s hard to say. You don’t want the potatoes to be swimming in the stuff or they will never crisp up. I use just enough so that each potato is a little glossy. I then season the potatoes very well and add a sprinkle of cumin to each one. Some black sesame seeds would be nice on these too, now that I think of it! Give the potatoes a little shake in the tray and then place the tray in the oven. These will take about 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven and how crispy you want them. I try to leave them in for as long as possible so that the skin caramelises and they are even sweeter.
Prepare your fish crumb by placing the flour in a large, deep dish, the beaten eggs in another deep dish, and the breadcrumbs in a separate dish. Add 2 tablespoons of the herbs and the lemon zest to the breadcrumbs, as well as some seasoning. Try to purchase breadcrumbs from your local bakery for an even better taste and crunch, or better yet, throw pieces of a stale breadstick in the food processor for lovely, fresh crumbs. Pat your fish pieces dry with paper towels to absorb any moisture. Place them on a board and season both sides, then place each piece of fish in the flour, then egg, then breadcrumb mixture, coating the fish well at each stage. Place the fish in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up.
In the meantime, make the herb mayonnaise by combining mayonnaise, remaining herbs, capers and the juice of half a lemon. Season well, but if you are using salted capers, go easy on the salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning and lemon as required.
Place a generous amount of vegetable or sunflower oil into a large frying pan over a medium to high heat. I use about half a cup for every two pieces of fish. Once the oil is nice and hot (but not burning!), place the fish carefully in the pan, being sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry the fish for about 3-5 minutes on either side, or until lovely and golden. Rest on paper towels once cooked for about a minute, to soak up any excess oil.
Serve your crispy fish with a generous amount of mayonnaise, sweet potato wedges and a lemon wedge.
Enjoy… and happy Friday!