In June last year, during one of the lighter moments of Britain’s rather squalid EU referendum campaign, “leave” campaigner Nigel Farrage led a flotilla of fishing boats up the Thames, calling on Britain to “take back our waters” and to “stop giving away our fish”.
However, his flotilla was ambushed by a rival flotilla, led by “remain” campaigner Sir Bob Geldoff wielding a megaphone and yelling out such memorable taunts as “you’re a fraud, Nigel” and “you’re no fisherman’s friend”.
Of course, the truth is that it is the fish, not the fishermen, who are most in need of a friend.
Across the globe, fish populations are in steep decline. Since the 1960s stocks of tuna, swordfish and marlin have fallen by 90%. More recently conservationists warned that the once ubiquitous sardine is now being driven to extinction as a result of overfishing off the African coast.
For all its faults (and there are plenty, for example the outrageous practice of dumping dead fish back into the sea), the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) at least represented a serious attempt to tackle overfishing within the EU’s boundaries. In the fourteen years of the CFP’s existence it has even led to a recovery in stocks of some fish species, including North Sea cod.
Outside the EU and without regulation, the alternative would be to leave fishing decisions to “market forces”, allowing greed to dictate how much fish can be caught. Hugely damaging practices like bottom trawling, which yields huge catches but destroys habitats and breeding grounds, would almost certainly become more prevalent.
And if we do return to overfishing beyond the oceans’ recovery limits then all too soon our fishermen will no longer have a livelihood to protest about.
This recipe is the culmination of a lengthy period of research and experimentation.
I first came across the idea of using halloumi in a vegetarian version of fish and chips many years ago at the brilliant Terre a Terre vegetarian restaurant in Brighton, UK.
For the past couple of years I have experimented with various other ingredients, including paneer and tofu, but there is something about the texture and slightly salty flavour of halloumi that makes it just right for this dish. Char-grilling the halloumi before deep frying it gives it an additional dimension of flavour.
The secret behind crispy, light batter lies in the alchemy between very hot oil and very cold batter. Using ice-cold beer in the latter produces perfect results, but ice-cold sparkling water would work just as well.
for the beer battered halloumi
two 250g blocks halloumi
40 g corn flour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
125 g plain organic flour
1 tsp baking powder
225 ml ice-cold beer or sparkling water (put it in the freezer for 15 minutes before using)
for the “mushy peas”
150 g green split peas
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
200 g fresh or frozen peas
5 g fresh mint leaves
½ tsp sea salt
groundnut oil for deep frying
300 g triple cooked chips (recipe here)
1. Place the green split peas in a saucepan with the garlic and 350 ml water. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer, place a lid on the pan and cook for a further 50 minutes or until the split peas are soft. Strain through a fine sieve, but retain the cooking liquid. Place the fresh or frozen peas in a separate pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the mint leaves, stir, and cook for a further minute. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve. Place the peas and mint, together with the sea salt and split peas in a food processor. Add a couple of tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid and process in short bursts until you arrive at a mixture that has the texture of mushy peas. Set to one side.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 130°C (250°F, gas mark ½). Place the cornflour into a bowl. Cut the blocks of halloumi into four pieces, across the width. Slice each of these pieces into 3 thin slices, again across the width. Place a ridged frying pan on a medium heat. When the pan is very hot, brush the halloumi on one side with olive oil and place in the pan. We are only char-grilling one side, so cook for 3 minutes or until the halloumi has chargrilled bars across the underside. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Once cool, roll the halloumi in the cornflour until lightly dusted, brushing off any excess. This will help the batter to stick.
3. When you are ready to batter the halloumi, fill a deep pan with groundnut oil to a depth of 5-6cm and place over a high heat. Quickly whisk together the flour, baking powder and ice-cold beer into a thick batter. Dip the pieces of halloumi into the batter and add to the pan. You will need to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and reducing the temperature of the oil too drastically. Cook the halloumi for 2-3 minutes on each side or until the batter is crispy and golden. Briefly drain on kitchen paper then place on a baking tray in the pre-heated oven until you have cooked all of the halloumi.
4. To serve, place 2-3 pieces of battered halloumi on each plate, along with a serving of triple cooked chips and a spoonful of “mushy peas” and lemon wedges