18.05.2021 – Food & Drinks | Food column

Enjoy crispy fish nuggets at home – with miso mayonnaise

Whenever he’s passing the fish stalls at Zurich’s weekly markets, our food writer always keeps an eye out for cod ‘bäggli’. This is the muscle from cod heads – and it makes the most delicious fish nuggets, much better than you get down the pub. And they’re even better when dipped in miso mayonnaise.

As with most animal products, eating fish is a difficult topic these days. Most ocean stocks are overfished and too depleted to recover naturally. Farmed fish is at best an okay substitute – I steer clear of salmon that doesn’t meet the highest standards (Biosuisse organic label). Some of the cheap products on sale don’t deserve to be called fish, they should be labelled ‘dyed fat of animal origin’.

I still eat fish at least once a week.

On a side note, eating a fish because ‘it’s already dead’ is a stupid argument. That’s how markets work – if demand for something exists, it will be ‘produced’, even if that involves overfishing. But I still eat fish once or twice a week. When buying ocean fish, I usually opt for relatively inexpensive rose fish – which has a nice bite – or cod. This not particularly upmarket fish is part of a huge industry whose continuing existence depends on the avoidance of overfishing. I have previously written about how I like to cook this fish.

I use cod heads to make my fish nuggets.

At the market it is possible to buy ‘bäggli’ – the muscle from cod heads. They hold together nicely and don’t have the flaky texture of the rest of the fish. This part of the cod is not too expensive, in fact it’s pretty cheap – about 36 francs a kilo. I use it to make my fish nuggets. Because what you usually get served up in pubs and shamefully feed to your children is at best perch from Canada, but more often than not it’s pangasius from uncontrolled fish farms in far-flung corners of the world.

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By the way, if I want to eat good fish nuggets in a nice atmosphere, I usually cycle out to Stäfa. They are always freshly made in the Schützenhaus at the harbour and taste amazing. The Sonne next door also has an excellent reputation as a fish restaurant.

Crispy cod nuggets

Ingredients

  • Per person, 100 g cod head muscle, cut into about 8 bite-sized pieces
  • 2 dl cooking sake
  • Flour 
  • 2 eggs
  • Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, available at Frischeparadies or Japanese stores, fries up crispier than normal breadcrumbs)
  • 2 dl oil for frying (HOLL rapeseed oil)
  • 1 tablespoon organic butter for frying

Method

  • Marinate the fish in the sake for an hour and allow it to come to room temperature.
  • Set out three plates containing the flour, beaten egg and panko. Season the egg with salt and pepper.
  • Dab the fish dry.
  • Heat the oil in a pan until it starts to shine and ‘vibrate’. Turn the fish in the flour, dip in the egg and coat with panko. Technique: use your left hand for the egg and your right hand for the breadcrumbs so that it stays fairly dry. Otherwise, you’ll have to keep running to the sink to wash your hands. Fry up two batches to make four portions.
  • Add the breaded fish pieces to the pan, one after the other, but as quickly as you can to avoid the oil temperature dropping too much (this is also why you shouldn’t use the fish straight out of the fridge). Check the temperature; the batter should turn golden but not dark brown (or it will taste bitter). The fish pieces don’t have to be fully immersed in the cooking oil, half-immersed is enough. Turn them a few times until the breadcrumbs are golden, but I always tilt the pan so that they are immersed for a while. When the batter is golden, the fish will be deliciously tender but still retain some bite – unlike the vast majority of industrially made nuggets that are like mush.
  • Let the first batch of nuggets drain briefly on (recycled!) kitchen paper while you cook the second batch. The batter is firm and crisp enough and the fish inside will only cook a minimal amount. OK, we’re not talking three-star cuisine here, where every bite has an identical texture.

I serve the fish nuggets with baked potatoes, a leafy green vegetable, and my notorious miso mayo, a nasty hybrid of convenience foods that is made as follows:

  • 3 parts mayonnaise (Thomy organic)
  • 1 part miso (red or light, but dark also works)
  • 1 teaspoon Salsa Espinaler or Tabasco or Sriracha
  • Juice of ¼ lime
  • 1 pinch of pimientón de la vera (smoked paprika)
  • 1 fresh egg yolk

Stir all the ingredients together. If it is too runny, add more mayonnaise from the tube. Of course, you can increase the fancy factor by making your own mayo. But you don’t have to work that hard – this sauce is just amazing, takes 3 minutes to make and wows everyone who tries it. Enjoy your nuggets!