Beer-battered halibut is one of the best things we have in Alaska. It’s a great way to use previously-frozen halibut, or rockfish or cod. It’s pretty simple to make, as long as you don’t mind deep-frying.
First, a word about deep-frying… If you own a deep-fryer, terrific. Otherwise, you can do it in a pot on the stove, it just takes a little more attention. You need a pot that’s at least 6” high, and you want to fill it with oil up to about a third of that height, so about 2”. As far as the type of oil, you want to use an oil which has a high smoking point. Many oils are available refined or unrefined; you want to use a refined oil. Unrefined oils generally have more flavor, and are better for salad dressings, etc., but refined oils are more stable at high temperatures. All vegetable oils degrade at high heat, but the best ones to use for deep-frying are safflower, sunflower, canola, soybean, and peanut. Don’t use vegetable shortening. Some people try to save the oil after using it, to use again, but if you try to keep it longer than 3-4 days, it will go rancid. It can even go bad before you ever use it, so you should check it if it has been in the cupboard for a few months. If it smells at all like old paint, throw it out.
It’s also helpful to have a deep-fry thermometer that clips firmly to the side of the pot. You want to try to maintain a temperature between 325ºF and 350ºF. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can still do it (people managed for hundreds of years), you just need to keep watch. You test to see if it’s hot enough by throwing in a drop of batter. After that, you keep adjusting the control knob so the fish doesn’t cook too quickly or take too long.
If you’re cooking for a group, turn the oven on to warm, and line a sheet pan with paper towels. As you cook the pieces of fish, transfer them to the oven to keep warm.
It’s a good idea to cut all the pieces of fish to the same thickness. This makes it easier, because you know they will all take the same time to cook. Otherwise, the thicker pieces tend to be undercooked and soggy. (Mmmm….soggy!)
The beer batter is simple. One cup of beer, and a cup of flour. To that add an egg, a teaspoon of baking soda, a tablespoon of mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. You can use either Dijon or yellow mustard.
1 cup beer
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 Tbsp mustard
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
I’ve read that letting the batter sit for an hour before using will yield better results. I tried that, and the fish came out great, but honestly, I don’t think it makes too much difference.
As far as beer is concerned, I like an amber or brown ale, such as Alaskan Amber. Very hoppy beers such as IPA are bitter, so I probably wouldn’t prefer them for a beer batter. American lagers such as Bud, Miller, et al., are okay for batter.
After the fish is cut and the oil is hot, dredge the pieces of fish in flour a few at a time, then shake off all excess flour and drop in the batter. Using a pair of tongs, transfer each piece into the hot oil. Hold each piece in the oil, and swish it back and forth a few times before letting go. This allows each piece to develop a skin before it hits the bottom of the pot, and will help keep them from sticking.
You want to cook the pieces of fish until golden brown…but “golden brown” can mean anything from barely crisp to nearly burnt. Also, if your batter contains yellow mustard, it’s a different color anyway. So if you’re unsure, break a piece open to check for doneness. Since all the pieces are the same size, you can cook them to color from then on.
I don’t like a sweet tartar sauce. Most commercial tartar sauces use sweet pickle relish, and I think they’re terrible. I like dill pickle instead. Also, your tartar sauce will be lighter if you use half mayonnaise and half sour cream.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup minced dill pickles
3 Tbsp minced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp capers, minced into mush
1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp Tabasco
1/8 tsp ground celery seed
Mix all together and chill.
- Derrick Snyder