Good fish and chips are a serious business, so let me start with a joke:
Canteen: would you like a free fish and chips?
Food blogger: what’s the catch?
Canteen: today, plaice or pollock
Like good comedy, good fish and chips are hard to find.
To help solve this problem, Canteen head chef and co-owner, Cass Titcombe, delivered a free fish & chips masterclass to a table-full of London food bloggers, on Thursday 23 April, at the chain’s Baker Street branch.
13 food bloggers. Two tables. One mission: to find good fish and chips.
When the applause died down (I thoroughly recommend clapping whoever is cooking for you – it can only do good), Cass began by talking about the oil for the chips, which must be ‘clean'.
He then described a two-stage cooking process for Canteen’s chips, which are, in case you were wondering, somewhere in between huge, chunky-style wedges and thin French fries (in other words, perfect).
Maris Pipers are blanched, peeled and cut. But not left in water, so they are crispy. Part one of cooking is at 140 degrees. The chips are then cooled. Part two is at 190 degrees, until crisp and golden (which ours turned out to be, by the way.)
The fish. Canteen’s is usually breaded, not battered. Some say controversially. However, this is quicker for the chefs therefore quicker for the customers. Battered fish is also very messy.
When Cass speaks, food bloggers listen.
Speaking of messy, I was dribbling quite a lot at this stage and some drool happened to fall from my lips onto my parchment, blurring the ink from my quill.
As a result, I’m not exactly sure where the following words fit in but Cass spoke them so I’ll repeat them here: pale ale, self-raising flour. Consistency of thick double cream. Mushy peas. Tartar sauce.
From L to R: Patrick, Canteen co-owner and urban sailor, Tom, Canteen business support dude and wearer of sweatshirt that makes it look like he's wearing a backpack.
Questions from the floor
Any colouring in mushy peas? No. Soaked in bicarbonate of soda for at least 12 hours.
Why no beef fat? Because a lot of people don’t want to eat meat.
Do you make your own breadcrumbs? Yes, our own stale white bread. White bread’s colour makes it easier to judge cooking (another detail that proves how much thought goes into Canteen’s food).
Do you use cod? Yes and Pollock and whiting and plaice and haddock.
Do you tell people what fish they’re getting? Yes, there’s a daily amendment.
Where does fish come from? Small day boats off south coast.
What sort of vegetable oil? Will check.
My question (in my own head, I didn’t ask): why is there only one food blogger asking all the questions? Who was he?
Is fish fried separately from chips? Yes, separate fryers.
Pickled gherkins? Onions? No.
Eggs in tartar sauce? No.
Pasteurised egg yolk? Yes.
Cass’ favourite fish? Breaded haddock.
When was the pollock caught? Yesterday.
Because Cass is a co-owner of Canteen and talked about 'spotting a gap in the market for affordable, great British food on the high street', I got the impression one of the food bloggers thought he'd given up a job in the city to 'try his hand at cooking', because someone asked him 'so how long have you been cooking, then?' This isn't something Cass suddenly decided to do, in case you were wondering, he's been cooking professionally ever since he went to college. To study, you guessed it, cooking.
I was treated so well, I couldn't bring myself to point out they'd done their sign backwards. Oh well, guess you can't be good at everything.
The fish and chips
We each got some breaded plaice and some battered pollock. The plaice tasted 'more fishy’ than the pollock and was delicious and moist inside a perfectly crispy breading. The pollock was drier than the plaice and wonderfully flaky - and tasted a bit like cod (forgive my simplistic description - my first time with pollock); the batter, crispy. The chips were, well, perfect. The right blend of fluffy and crunchy.
Breaded plaice and battered pollock
What more can I say? Well the stats don’t lie. How many food bloggers were invited? 13. How many came? 13. How many food bloggers were served plates of fish and chips? 13. How many plates had any fish or chips left on at the end? Zero.
So even if you don’t listen to the master, Cass Titcombe, Canteen's head chef, heed the numbers. Listen to the numbers. The numbers don’t lie. Can you hear them? They’re saying ‘go to Canteen. Order fish and chips’.