Are all foods better battered?
My unlikeliest moment of culinary epiphany came after midnight in Edinburgh following a skinful of McEwan’s and a sweaty evening of rubbish stand-up. I’d staggered into a packed chippy in search of some grubby late-night oil-infused sustenance and gazed up at the bill of fare. What I saw near bowled me over. The sheer inventiveness of this chipmeister’s application of that glorious crispy cloak of love and lipid-soaked carb (or batter) was, frankly, astounding. This guy battered not just the usual fish, saveloys and pineapple rings, but also pizzas, Mars bars and the very chips themselves. Brilliant. Chips in batter!
But battered chips weren’t the highlight – hoh, no. Just before plugging for a slab of carbohydrate and fat accompanied by a slab of sugar and fat, I spotted ‘deep-fried battered haggis’. Well, I held aloft my cash and asked for a large one. Now, I dig haggis anyway, but this stuff was mind-blowing. It had all the textural resonance that I love (crunch set off by squidge, with the sprinkled gift of nodules of oatmeal to nibble between your teeth). But imagine all those attributes encased in a sunshine crust and coated in a dreamcoat of salt. So many calories in such a small space! Sensual experiences don’t come much more transcendental than that. Well, not when you’re drunk and hungry they don’t.
After I recovered from the experience (I awoke to a face covered in spots), I began to wonder if I couldn’t batter a range of other familiar foods and perhaps improve on them. Here are a few that I’ve tried:
A good or a bad battering?
Top row (L to R)
This was unbelievably good - once you’d got past the feeling of oleaginous guilt. The batter lets the bacon keep its moistness, yet you still seem to get the Maillard effect with all those complex caramelisation reactions going on - but all that fat!
Whole roasted coffee beans
I though that this was going to be the big revelation – like the new chocolate-covered coffee bean. But the textures are all wrong and the flavours are too brutal. Big shame.
This stuff is about as bad as food gets. Well-nigh tasteless and eye-bleedingly expensive to boot at £13.40/kg, which is a shocker when the venerable Keen’s cheddar is only £13.75/kg. Anyway, deep-fried, it’s fantastic! Soft and tasteless but in a delectable crispy batter… might as well inject it straight into your arteries, mind.
A revelation. It’s a bit like elderflower fritters, truth be told, delicious and oddly refined. I thoroughly recommend this one, but try to keep the fat very hot so the cooking time is short and the leaves don’t wilt away too much
Middle row (L to R)
Hmmm… a bit rubbish, like putting a capsule of boiling water in your mouth and cracking it. And I do worry what would happen if the tomato split in the hot oil – an explosion, probably. Don’t try this at home.
The kids loved them - funnily enough - although I wasn’t blown away. Deep-frying makes them chewy, but they keep their shape just enough to be fun.
Surprisingly good. The frying softens the (fresh, not dried) leaf so that you can bite it. Quite strong flavour, though.
Naah…. how can you improve on an olive?
Bottom row (L to R)
Raw garlic cloves
Yup, brilliant stuff. Like making pungent, gutsy crisps. The garlic caramelises a little in the batter (no idea how) and takes on a toffee hint, while still retaining crunch.
Needed a thicker batter for this one, but the kids were desperate. Hot molten cocoa in a crispy skin. They thought they’d died and gone to chocolate heaven. I thought I might be carted off by social services for nutritional abuse.
I quite liked this, but possibly just because it was a fun idea - like a tempura version of chocolate liqueurs. Pretty soggy inside though.
So tell me, what batters your boat?
Stefan Gates is a BBC presenter and food writer.