In my Dutch Food series I recently described ‘kibbeling‘. It’s a Dutch fried fish snack and can be bought at just about every Saturday market in the country. You’ll smell the fried fish from far, making you hungry straight away. In that post I also give you a great recipe to try to make for yourself. However, when sharing a recipe I like to discuss the why’s of a recipe as well! So that’s what we will be focussing on today.
A quick recap of the kibbeling recipe
The recipe I used can be found in full in my other blog post. Let me summarize quickly what we did so we can zoom in on the different steps:
- Pre-season the fish with a spice blend
- Make a battermix with flour, corn flour and spices
- Make a batter of equal water and battermix amounts
- Coat the fish with the batter
- Fry the fish
The effect of pre-seasoning fish
So what makes a good batter? As mentioned in the recipe, the spices will influence the flavour of the batter, however, they generally do not influence the structure and texture of the batter. Nevertheless, it’s important to first dip the fish in a separate spice batter. It’s a good way to create a dry surface on the fish. That improves the adherence of the batter to the fish. Instead of using spices, coating in flour would also give this effect.
Drying the outside of the fish can also prevent some migration of moisture from the fish into the batter. It is thought that this is one of the reasons a batter gets soggy.
Science of a batter mix
I’ve read and seen a lot of different frying/fried fish batters. They often contain, amongst others: beer, carbonated water or baking soda. What’s the common denominator? Correct, it’s the fact that they can ‘make’ air bubbles. These air bubbles will make a crust lighter upon frying.
Besides the ‘bubbling’ components there’s always some sort of flour in a fried fish batter mix. I’ve read that a higher proportion of rice and cornflour generally make for a crispier final result. Regular flour is important for the batter to adhere to the fish. Quite a lot of ratios will work, but important to note is that you shouldn’t over mix a flour batter, it will make you crust tough.
The ratio of flours : liquid in my recipe is about 1:1, in most other recipes I saw it’s something like that as well. Adding to much water will make the batter drip off your fish, adding too little will make the batter to thick.
Fried fish batter, why the batter?
Why fry fish with a batter and not just the fish by itself? Well, a good reason for that is to protect the fish from the fat and heat of the deep fryer. The batter can protect the fish and also prevent the product from becoming very oily. Furthermore, what’s better than a nice crispy crunchy piece of fish (or vegetable, or anything else you’d like to fry)?
So what happens in the batter during frying? Well, as soon as the product touches the oil, water will start evaporating and if your batter contains a ‘bubbling agent’ this will make extra gas bubbles. In the meantime the proteins and starch in the flour will do their work. The proteins will denature and form a firm network, the starch will swell up and support this structure as well.
I’ve also seen recipes with an egg, the egg can give some extra fattiness to the batter as well as extra structure. The proteins will coagulate and help forming a stable crust.
The temperature while frying is very important as well. Most temperatures I’ve seen at around 170C. If it’s too cold the crust on the outside of the water won’t form fast enough. As a result, the crust doesn’t protect the inside and a lot of fat can be absorbed. However, if it’s too high your fish will burn before the inside is cooked!
A kibbeling recipe
Even though kibbeling ‘should’ be bought freshly made at a market stall, you can also make it yourself. Essentially it’s nothing more than a fried fish recipe, with slight Dutch swing to it.
This recipe gives a slightly crispy, tasty kibbeling. Take care that you throw in the fish pieces one by one or the pieces might all stick together. This isn’t just inconvenient, but can also give an undercooked batter.
- 100g flour
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 150 ml of beer
- 300g cod (or any other white fish, whichever you prefer)
- Spices (use any mix you'd like, these spices will give a lot of flavour to the fish; some examples: plenty paprika, black pepper and dill with a little ginger and clove powder; or take mustard, pepper, curry powder, onion, basil & parsley)
- 2 tbsp flour
- Sunflower oil to fry
- If using frozen fish, take it out of the freezer well ahead of time.
- Dry the fish with some kitchen towel to remove any excess moisture.
- Cut the fish in 3x3 cm pieces.
- Cover the fish in spices to your preference.
- Coat the fish in flour, use more flour if not all the fish has a thin layer of flour. This first layer will help dry out the fish and help the batter stick.
- Leave the fish on the side and make the batter by mixing all ingredients together, no worries if there are still a few clumps.
- Heat oil 180C (if frying small batches a wok will work well, you can also use a deep frier).
- Put the fish in the batter mix. Make sure all sides of all pieces are coated with a layer of batter.
- Put the fish in the hot oil, one by one, make sure to do this one by one, else they'll stick to each other!
- Don't overfill the oil, it shouldn't sink in temperature too much.
- Fry until nice and brown, the fish itself will cook quickly, probably 4-6 minutes only.
While writing this blog post I’ve been going by a lot of other blogs, all giving batter recipes, here’s a selection: Simplyrecipes.com, Use Real Butter, Alexandra cooks, I am a food blog, Just one cookbook (I like the extensive explanation here!)