Saturday, 28 July 2012

The 2012 London Olympics Special: Traditional Great British Fish and Chips

The 2012 London Olympics are finally under way!

I live right in the heart of central London, so cannot avoid the new temporary traffic restrictions, the threefold increase of tourists, the hugely increased numbers of joggers/cyclists who have become inspired to get off their fat behinds and actually do some sports, the countless bomb threats, and Coke adverts EVERYWHERE.

So, what is the fuss all about? Olympics is really just a school sports day, but on a massive scale, right? Having looked at the list of events, I noticed all of the usual suspects - running/jumping/swimming/gymnastics etc, but there are also plenty of other obscure things to compete in and watch : Trampolining?! Are you kidding me? Water polo? Beach volleyball? Apparently until a few years ago, there was even a tug-of-war!

If this rubbish is being allowed, I'm going to petition the next Olympic committee to add the egg 'n' spoon and the sack race. I think it would be hilarious to watch pairs of our nation's best athletes tie their legs together and enter the three-legged race. Why not?

But for me, the best part of sports day - and the bit I would be most interested in recreating on the modern Olympic stage - would be the parent's race. We could get every single parent of every competitor from every nation to gather at Hyde Park for a 100 metre sprint. It would be fantastic for international relations to get everyone together for a single event, but it would be more hilarious to watch the parents overshadow their offspring's performances with such a display of raw competitiveness and a bit of... cheating.

How much would you love to see Usain Bolt's mum standing next to everyone else's parents, hitching up her skirt and taking off her shoes. There she would be, jostling for position against Roger Federer's mum and Ryan Gigg's dad. The Chinese synchronised swimming team are all there to cheer on their folks, as are the Russian table tennis players and the Saudi badminton squad. Suddenly, the starter pistol fires and they're off - Mrs Bolt gets an early lead, but Mr Giggs seems to be slyly making good ground on the inside. At the tape it's too close to call - Mrs Federer wins by a hair.

In the car on the way home:  'Well done Usain, you made mummy very proud in your little race, but if I see your friend Roger's mum, Mrs Federer, again I'm going to punch her. Bloody cheat'.

What fun! - I'm phoning Seb Coe.

The fabulous thing about the Olympics is the opportunity to show London off to the rest of the world. My home town really is amazing, and I'm very lucky to have been born here, work here and live here. I wouldn't think about living anywhere else (mmm, apart from New York, maybe).

The tourists will love visiting our famous landmarks and museums, walking in our parks and eating our food. And what dish is more patriotic than good old British fish and chips? Just down the road is the fabulous Seashell fish and chip restaurant on Lisson Grove. It's an institution - selling the freshest fish in crispy golden batter, with the crunchiest chips. I always order cod (pictured above), but the haddock and plaice are equally lovely. At home, I cook with plaice, pouting, flounder, river cobbler, or any other white-fleshed fish on special at my local supermarket's fish counter. It's all good.

British chip shop chips are absolutely unique. For a recipe which is only two ingredients, I would know whether a chip was made in Great Britain or not. You could take our potatoes and oil to the USA, Africa or Spain and I would definitely know that the chips weren't made here. It's what the French called 'terroir', but it's what I call 'the taste of home' - somehow it gets right into the food. Take a look at the picture above - don't the chips look incredible? Of course, I can't recreate the exact taste at home, which is why an occasional trip to the Seashell is such a treat.

You've got to order a 'wally' with your fish and chips as well - a huge dill pickle. They're made with industrial spirit, probably, and not some sort of fancy balsamic vinegar, but they are perfect to cut the oiliness of the rest of the meal, and very authentic to London.

I don't make batter at home - I prefer matzo meal, to give a more breaded and healthier finish. Again, reserving battered fish as a monthly Seashell treat, rather than an artery-clogging regular fixture on my weekly meal rota, keeps my waistline a very respectable 'could do with a trip to the gym', rather than 'morbidly obese ready for death'.

Cost-wise, doing it my way, this dish will come in at £3 per serving. If you take a trip to the Seashell, or the many other top London fish and chip places, the cost can be up to four times that.

My Home-made Fish and Chips:

Serves 2


2 large white-fleshed fish fillets
2 tablespoons of plain flour, with pinches of salt and pepper
1 beaten egg
100g medium matzo meal, or dried breadcrumbs
3 large floury peeled potatoes, such as King Edward or Maris Piper
Sunflower oil, for frying
Rock salt, for sprinkling
Large pickled gherkin, to serve

Coat the fish in the seasoned flour and dip the fillets in the beaten egg. Finally, cover the fish in matzo meal and set aside to firm-up. In the meantime, heat a large pan full of oil and cut the potatoes into 1cm long batons. Fry in the hot oil until crisp (30 minutes approx) and remove to drain, sprinkling them with the rock salt. In the chip oil, add the fish and fry until golden (5 minutes approx). Remove the fish from the oil and allow to drain. Serve immediately with the chips and the pickle.

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