You know my husband is getting cocky when he tries to rumble with Betty Crocker. But that’s how I found him one recent evening: Staring, hard-eyed, at a box of her famous Bisquick.
“I will conquer you, Bisquick,” he might have said (but didn’t.)
Apparently this dramatic face off was inspired by one of our favorite fellow bloggers, Mimi, of French Kitchen in America. She recently challenged her readers to come up with recipes using the famous product — or, actually, any biscuit mix, including homemade — whether up-market or down-home. My husband, of course, couldn’t resist, and decided to take on the original and iconic cooking behemoth, Betty Crocker’s Bisquick.
… Hence, another evening when I come home to find disturbing evidence of his cooking obsession. Him and a box of Bisquick. About to cage match. Jeesh.
Problem is, I can’t complain too vociferously — or he won’t make me this Bisquick-and-beer battered fried fish again.
That’s right: After much thought, the husband determined to jettison the usual baking methodology and throw his Bisquick into hot oil — after first combining it with beer and throwing a fish around in it. The results are delectable, but sadly, extremely fattening. (Then again, who said fried fish was health food?)
The classic fried cod that exited our stove had the appropriate and amazing crunchy top coat, made slightly and delightfully sweet from the magic Bisquick formula. The fish inside was cooked perfectly — moist, tender and steaming. All the seasoning was spot on, and bonus: The husband also made some delicious curried tartar sauce to match. And, of course, he also made chips (for what is fish without chips?) … bringing the sum total calories and fat of the meal to near-record levels.
But nevermind about all that nutritional information business. The point is: It tastes good. And I think Betty Crocker would agree. But if I catch her alone with my husband again…
It’s actually very true… I was staring at a box of Bisquick. It sat next to me one night while watching TV. In fact, I know way more about Bisquick than I did before — because you can’t help but read the nutritional information and ingredients when staring at the box. Aside from some surprising stuff on the side label (let’s just say this isn’t a low-fat or low-cal meal), what you learn very quickly is that it is simply a modified self-rising flour. Once I understood that, I realized I needed a theme and a concept. What good is an ingredient if it has no purpose?
It didn’t take me long to realize my theme would be Ireland. I know Mimi has French heritage and has great passion for that country, but this time of year is about Ireland and Saint Patrick. Unfortunately, Ireland, like its despised British cousin, hasn’t had a great culinary tradition until recently. So I began to imagine stews with drop biscuits and various other hearty fare.
Then it clicked. My wife and I were in Ireland a few years back, and I thought of one of the funniest sights on that trip. We were in Dublin, and my wife got fish and chips at this small chipper. In fact, the chipper was so small that there were no tables and it was all take away (notice the respect for the local lingo… not carry out like here in the States… it’s take away). She ordered haddock. The next thing I know, my wife is carrying around a huge hunk of fish. I’m pretty sure they just battered the whole filet and handed it to her. So, imagine her gnawing on a fried fish that is taken from a fish about as big as she is. It’s natural absurdist comedy. Thinking back on this, I knew wanted to make fish and chips.
The only hang-up was the breading. On most fried fish, the coating is just a flour with seasoning and leavener. I didn’t even need the leavener, since Bisquick gets you most of the way there. Plus, Bisquick has sugar and its own flavor. So I added some heat and dimension with paprika and cayenne, and used the beer to give it a bit more rise and flavor.
The results were impressive. I was shocked how well it worked. The Bisquick has a lightness in flavor that keeps the batter around the fish sweet. There is actually more depth of flavor than when I’ve made similar dishes with regular flour. So, I’m delighted to share this with you as it was great lesson for me.
Finally, there are a couple technical notes. First, after I decided to do this recipe, I caught an episode of America’s Test Kitchen doing a fish and chips episode. The show was very informative and I would highly recommend it (it’s a TiVo season pass for us). While I don’t use their recipe or even their breading technique, it did influence the choices I made, so I want to give a proper hats off to the folks at Cook’s Illustrated.
Second, I used an Irish red ale, Smithwick’s. It has a good depth of flavor. I suspect if you wanted to be even more Irish for the holiday, you could use Harp. However, I would stay away from Guinness or other dark stouts. I think the beautiful body and deep chocolate flavor would really undermine the lightness of the batter. Though, I would highly recommend drinking a Guinness with this.
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