I SIMPLY love seafood. I would choose a fish or seafood entrée over meat any time. As much as possible, I refrain from eating red meat, which is sometimes difficult since I am in the business of food writing and I go to quite a number of media lunches and launches and do restaurant reviews. I am close to a lot of chefs and restaurateurs, and they always let me try their new dishes, which of course include meat dishes. Well, I do eat meat when I have to, but only a mouthful—no full meals, thank you—to know what I am writing about. When I was editor of FLAVORS Magazine, I also got invited to judge in culinary competitions, and I really had to take mouthfuls of meat dishes to be able to give fair scores.
There are days when I eat well, and there are days when I don’t. Pressed for time with meetings to catch or interview-shoots to rush to, I don’t get time enough to cook at home, and my husband Raff (a professional photographer) and I have to stop over at a fast-food restaurant or casual dining restaurant for a quick meal. On times such as these, I opt for whatever fish or seafood offering the place offers plus a large order of French fries. French fries are a comfort food for me. I like them because they can be eaten with the hands and they’re good with ketchup, mayo or, well, yes, even gravy. I like them golden and crispy, so Raff always requests that our order of French fries be “well done.”
Some restaurants offer fish sandwich. Others have shrimp sandwich. Yet others have Fish and Chips, which is what I like best because it marries my two favorite eats—fish and French fries.
Just last week, Raff and I walked into Chopstop at the Ground Floor of Eastwood Citywalk in Eastwood City for the very first time. Since Chopstop is a partner establishment of the United States Potato Board (USPB) and therefore uses U.S. Frozen Potatoes for its fries, I felt assured that the French fries there would be good. After all, you cannot go wrong with U.S. Frozen Potatoes, since there is consistency in the quality and taste. It’s also reassuring to know that, contrary to what has been said about French fries being loaded with fat and cholesterol, potatoes per se contain no fat at all, are rich in Vitamin C and fiber, and are an excellent source of potassium.
The place is very inviting. It has a cozy, casual feel to it, nothing garish, and what greeted us as we approached the counter was a No-Diet sign above a mock traffic stoplight and a follow-up message below that says Just Eat. On the concrete post that leads to the dining area, the words Stop, Look and Eat reassure diners that it’s okay to eat—and eat well.
A quick look at the menu board shows that Chopstop’s prices are quite reasonable. Its signature product is Chops, which is a choice between Pork Chops and Chicken Chops, served in a variety of combinations whose prices range from P99 to P169. The place also carries other Mains and Chows. I scanned the menu and, to my delight, I found Fish and Chips. We ordered that, with a side order of Cheesy Bacon Fries. Most casual dining restaurants offer Cheesy Bacon Fries, and I wanted to see how Chopstop’s version measured up against theirs. Deciding on what Chugs (drinks) to order, feeling torn between a Peanut Butter Jelly or Oreo Milkshake and an All-day Unlimited Margarita, the friendly lady behind the counter said we have free Brewed Iced Tea since we were having late lunch and Chopstop’s promotion for free Brewed Iced Tea was on from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. daily.
Raff and I thus settled back at a table near the glass wall and, while waiting for our orders to arrive, enjoyed a few minutes of leisurely Internet surfing. Yes, there’s free WiFi.
It did not take long for our orders to arrive. Chopstop’s Fish and Chips did not disappoint. It was quite generous for its price (P139), as it had four to five long strips of battered fish that have been fried to a golden crisp, and a good serving of perfectly crisp French fries beside it, served with a side of tartare sauce. The Cheesy Bacon Fries were a bit undercooked for my taste, but they were smothered with a delicious cheese sauce and sprinkled with bacon bits on top.
Since ready-to-cook frozen French fries are readily available in major supermarkets these days, and the USPB, which is the marketing arm of the U.S. potato industry, has facilitated the importation of different cuts of frozen potatoes and made them easily accessible even to home cooks, I got inspired to recreate the potato dishes that Raff and I ate at Chopstop. We stopped over at a supermarket on the way home, and I got a bag of U.S. Frozen Potato waffle cut fries (which I decided to use in place of the regular fries because I like the texture) and some shrimps, cream dory fish and crabsticks (which will turn the ‘Fish’ in Fish and Chips into ‘Seafood’).
I was going to make a Seafood and Chips Platter variation of the classic Fish and Chips. And I wasn’t going to be contented just copying the batter. I was going to do an F-E-B (Flour-Egg-Breadcrumbs) coating but pushing my creative limits a bit more by substituting the breadcrumbs with desiccated coconut for the shrimps, pinipig for the fish, and double flour coating for the crabsticks. It may sound complicated but it’s actually simple, since the shrimps, fish fillet and crabsticks all went through the same process—seasoned with salt and pepper, dredged in flour then dipped in beaten egg. Only the final coating differed, and they all got cooked in the same pan of hot oil along with the frozen waffle cut fries. One at a time, though.
If you’re ready to take the challenge, here’s the recipe I used, which you can tweak according to your own preference. The coatings may be interchanged, but you can also just use panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) for everything if you want to make things easier. As for the tartare sauce, you may use a store-bought one or mix some pickle relish into mayonnaise and serve as is or sprinkled with crispy bacon bits.
SEAFOOD AND CHIPS PLATTER
8 pieces medium-sized white shrimps or tiger prawns
1 piece cream dory fillet
8 pieces crabsticks
2 cups U.S. Frozen Potato waffle cut fries (any brand)
oil for deep-frying
salt and pepper to taste
all purpose flour for dredging
1-2 eggs, beaten
100 grams pinipig
75 grams desiccated coconut, or more
store-bought tartare sauce
crispy bacon bits
1. Peel the shrimps or prawns, leaving the tail segment intact. Devein both sides, make horizontal slits on the belly side, then place shrimps belly side down on a chopping board or clean work surface and press down lightly to straighten and lengthen the shrimps as you would for ebi tempura.
2. Cut cream dory fillet into bite sized strips.
3. Season shrimps, fish fillet and crabsticks with salt and pepper to taste separately.
4. Heat oil in pan, and fry waffle cut fries until golden brown. Remove and set aside.
5. Dredge shrimps, fish fillet and crabsticks with all purpose flour separately, then dip in beaten eggs.
6. Roll crabsticks in a second coating of flour, then drop in hot oil and fry until golden. Remove and drain off excess oil on paper towel.
7. Coat fish fillet with pinipig, pressing lightly to make pinipig stick to the fish. Gently drop in hot oil and cook until pinipig puffs up and fish is cooked. Remove and drain off excess oil on paper towel. Using a small strainer or slotted spoon, remove the leftover pinipig floating in the hot oil.
8. Coat shrimps with desiccated coconut to make Coconut Shrimps. Gently drop into the hot oil and cook until golden brown. Remove and drain off excess oil on paper towel.
9. Arrange cooked seafood in a platter with waffle cut fries, and serve with tartare sauce sprinkled with crispy bacon bits on top.
Serves 2 to 3.
(For more information on the benefits of potatoes and more recipes on how to creatively use them, visit the U.S. Potato Board Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/USPBPhilippines or the USPB website at http://www.potatoesusa-philippines.com/uspb/index.php.)