Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Corn Dog of the Sea

There’s nothing dangerous about this dish of chips and fried blowfish.

Garbage fish gets dressed up in beer batter. (Photo: Ian Knauer)

Ian Knauer worked for ‘Gourmet’ and is the author of the IACP Award–nominated cookbook ‘The Farm.’

I’m lucky enough to have a really great seafood monger at my local market. Every week they have something unusual like whole sea urchin, which I always get. It tastes like butter and sea salt. This week they had a fish I had never heard of before. I didn’t even know it existed.

When I asked the fish guy what it was his eyes twinkled as he told me it was blowfish.

The only blowfish I know about is fugu, a Japanese delicacy that, unless prepared correctly, can be deadly poisonous. In fact, fugu is so dangerous that a regular person can’t buy the whole fish. It needs to be prepared by a fugu chef who has earned a license to serve the fish. The license requirements include a two to three year apprenticeship, a written test, a practical test, and eating the prepared fish. Only 35 percent of the applicants pass the test—and some die trying.

My fish guy assured me that this blowfish was not fugu. Instead, he called it Atlantic blowfish and told me that it’s considered a garbage fish—in other words, it’s not sexy like tuna or salmon, so it often gets tossed—but that it is delicious. I bought some.

The tails of the fish are meaty and about the size of a chicken drumstick with a spine that runs down the center. Heading home, I had visions of fish and chips, and that’s exactly what I made for dinner. The meat is similar in texture and flavor to cod (a much more expensive fish), and the shape of the blowfish tails remind me not just of a drumstick, but also of a corn dog—it’s crunchy on the outside, meaty and tender on the inside.

If we want to make eating seafood truly sustainable, we should all eat more garbage fish. There are, in fact, a lot of fish in the sea, and these species are less popular and less likely to be overfished. In most cases, they are just as tasty too. 

Blowfish and Chips (Serves 4 as a lunch)

Ingredients

About 4 cups vegetable oil

4 russet potatoes

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning

1 teaspoon baking powder

6 ounces beer

4 blowfish tails, trimmed of skin and fins

Sea salt

Accompaniments: tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, ketchup

Directions

Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and heat to 350°F.

Cut the potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick sticks. Blanch the potatoes in the oil until tender, but not golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to paper towels to drain.

Increase heat of oil to 375°F.

Whisk together the flour, Old Bay, and baking powder in a bowl, then whisk in the beer. Dip the fish in the batter, letting any excess drip off, then place the fish in the oil. Fry the fish until batter is golden and fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer fish to paper towels to drain.

Return the oil to 375°F. Add the potatoes back to the oil and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain, sprinkle with salt and serve with the fish.

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