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The fry’s the limit! 17 delicious ways with batter, from tempura squid to churros

It is often alleged that there is no foodstuff that cannot be improved by dipping it in batter and deep-frying it. This is not true. As Alexi Duggi

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It is often alleged that there is no foodstuff that cannot be improved by dipping it in batter and deep-frying it. This is not true. As Alexi Duggins previously discovered, there are at least four foods that do not take well to deep-frying: Nutella, Cornettos, Toblerones and lettuce.

But that is a pretty short list and everything else is fair game. Battering and frying happens across many culinary cultures, although the idea seems to have strong roots on the Iberian peninsula. Even the Japanese picked it up from Portuguese fishers – the word tempura comes from the Latin Quatuor Tempora, designating the four annual fasting periods in the liturgical calendar.

Fasting periods being meatless, fish is the traditional battered main course. The basics are, well, very basic: hot oil, flour, water, white fish – but beyond that it is all about finesse. Felicity Cloake furnishes the rules for the perfect fish supper. Her preferred batter is made with cold beer, a bit of baking powder and some flour that has been in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Rachel Roddy’s recipe for battered salt cod.
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for battered salt cod. Photograph: Rachel Roddy/The Guardian

Apart from the cod and haddock normally served as British fish and chips (which also comes to us from Portugal), you can batter all kinds of seafood: squid, for example; or Jack Monroe’s oat battered kippers; or even salt cod, according to Rachel Roddy’s Roman recipe. If you can’t get salt cod to rehydrate, you can make your own from fresh cod, although this misses the point of salt cod and fresh fish.

You can also deep-fry previously steamed mussels to make mussel popcorn subs, or try Peter Gordon’s oyster and beer batter fritters. Cloake’s fish tacos are a Pacific treat made with whatever Atlantic fish you can get your hands on: sea bass, cod, hake, or monkfish will work. The batter is similar to the one she uses for her battered fish above, but with some added mustard powder for an extra kick. This is probably a variation worth trying for any and every fried thing.

For vegetarians, Maria Elia’s ginger beer-battered stuffed tofu with Asian mushy peas makes for a fish-less fish supper. It does, however, contain alcohol – that is a grated ginger and beer batter, as opposed to one made with ginger beer.

Fried courgette flowers stuffed with cream cheese and ricotta
Fried courgette flowers stuffed with cream cheese and ricotta. Photograph: Maria Lapina/Getty/iStockphoto

Lettuce aside, most firm vegetables can be deep-fried as a quick and easy way of making them less good for you. Yotam Ottolenghi originally served up this Mexican main course, chiles rellenos, as an alternative Christmas lunch, although there is nothing to stop you proclaiming any given Wednesday an alternative Christmas. He uses romano peppers in place of the traditional poblano, while the batter is enriched with eggs (whites and yolks whisked separately).

In Nigel Slater’s recipe for fiori fritti – fried courgette flowers – the batter is an airy mixture of egg white, flour and sparkling water. If you want, the courgettes can be stuffed first (if I were you, I would insist) with ricotta, goat’s curd, breadcrumbs or chopped spinach. Slater achieves a similar end with a wider selection of deep-fried vegetables – asparagus, French beans, courgettes and spring onions – and a ricotta, yoghurt and basil sauce served on the side.

Onion bhajis
Baked onion bhajis by Meera Sodha. Photograph: Martin Poole/The Observer

Roddy’s fritti is a combination of courgettes, sage leaves and apple rings; there is no reason you could not add any of Slater’s choices to that mix. Roddy also has a recipe for cauliflower in parmesan batter, which adds yet another batter variation to the list of options.

Onion bhajis – once again, we rely on Cloake’s authoritative synthesis of several recipes – use a batter made from gram flour, rice flour, ghee, lemon juice, water and various herbs and spices. Otherwise, the rules for deep-frying are much the same as always. The oil should be at about 180C – if you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the oil by dropping in a blob of batter to make sure it bobs and sizzles readily.

As a child, I liked everything about onion rings except the onion inside, although I accepted it as an unfortunate structural necessity, the scaffolding that allowed the batter to maintain the all-important ring shape. Paul Brown’s onion rings use a batter fashioned from lager, flour and soy sauce, but to achieve the ideal texture his vinegar-marinated onion also requires a priming undercoat of plain flour and a final top coat of breadcrumbs.

The battered, deep-fried dessert does exist, perhaps in no purer form than the churro. It is the closest you can get to a child’s dream of an onion-less onion ring: a curl of sugary batter dropped into hot oil. Here is a churro recipe from Nieves Barragán Mohacho, including the chocolate sauce to go with it.

Finally, the Scottish culinary classic that is the deep-fried Mars bar. It is made more or less how you would assume, but remember: chill the Mars bar first so that it does not melt in the hot oil, but don’t freeze it or it might fracture. This isn’t so much a deep-fried Mars bar recipe as a reminder of how difficult it is to take an appetising picture of a battered and fried chocolate bar. Bon appetit.

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