A friend of mine asked me to buy her a six-pack of "any-old beer." She didn't want people seeing her with an alcoholic beverage "at my age."
I asked her if she wanted me to buy her some cigarettes and a tabloid, too.
"No, no," she said. "My Bible group's coming over for my beer-batter shrimp."
Now I'm interested.
Beer-batter recipes are closely held. I've been begging waitresses for years at our local fish houses. They'll tell you what's in the coleslaw dressing but never the beer batter.
I began to think perhaps there is no beer in beer batter.
Perish the thought.
I didn't buy Mary any beer.
I dipped into my emergency storm cache and came up with a few Heinekens. I didn't even charge her, although they are getting quite dear these days.
I held them out to her with one non-negotiable demand.
"Give me your recipe."
She actually had to think about it. It was tempting to tell me to go pound salt, but that meant no beer. Finally, she rewarded me with the recipe, on a fat-spattered card.
Six ingredients. That's all. And one very crucial step that makes the meal: the pre-breading.
You don't just dip chicken, seafood or whatever in the batter. This is the reason batter falls off during frying. You must glue the it to the food.
The glue is flour. The drill is to dust the food in it, then batter it. The batter sticks all the way into the mouth. It's a miracle.
The other odd directive is to use stale beer. You don't want carbonated batter. The day before, pour it into a bowl and let it sit.
Great beer batter fries golden and crunchy. The malt in beer creates the irresistible golden texture. That's why the brew is
so important. It doesn't really add flavor and the alcohol is long gone.
Contrary to the fryer ads, you don't need a special appliance to fry foods. A regular pot will do. The amount of oil you use depends on the size of the food you're cooking. It should be covered.
Judge the temperature by dropping a little batter into the pot. When it foams, the oil is ready.
The big mistake most folks make is frying too much at once. Each time you add a piece, the temperature lowers. Fry too much and you lose that crunchy taste.
Your food needs its space in the oil. If it touches, that can cause the bane of all cooks, chewy breading.
Mary invited me over for a frying lesson. I note she uses peanut oil. It smokes at a higher temperature than vegetable oil, and temperature (350 degrees) is the big deal about frying.
We had a lunch of her fried shrimp. It was fantastic.
"You know, this could only be better if I were drinking the other Heineken," I said.
"Not in my house," she said, passing the iced tea.
12 pieces chicken or fish or 24 shrimp
12 ounces beer, day old
1 1/4 cups flour, all purpose
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika, sweet or spicy
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pour beer into mixing bowl the day before. Allow to stand at room temperature all night. Then whisk in flour, then other ingredients.
Prepare batter at least an hour before use as it will thicken. Place some flour in a plastic bag and dust food in it lightly. Dip in batter bowl. Deep-fry at 360 degrees. The time depends on size, about three minutes for seafood, four for fish and six for chicken. It's done when golden brown. Drain and serve.