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Fish and chips remains a local favourite through the generations

Make your own with these two never-fail batter recipes, homemade tartar sauce, mushy peas and coleslaw, writes Wayne Conrad Serbu

Growing up in Hespeler, on Forbes Street, in the '50s, my brother Ralph and I had to run a lot of errands on foot.

We both had paper routes delivering the Hespeler Evening Reporter, picking up perishables for my dad’s food business, along with getting groceries for mother.

The family property had a large back of house kitchen attached to a sizable vegetable garden that produced herbs, dill, basil, oregano and lots of onions and garlic for his recipes, which he would later trade with other neighbouring gardeners for their produce.

I remember the foot races my brother and I had down Adam Street up Queen, then up Cooper Street then home.

Now with dad being a working chef, mom had all the home cooking to do plus work shifts at Artex. So, her Friday tradition was to take off some down time and order in dinner from Hilltop Fish and Chips, now a variety store.

Each order consisted of fresh cut local potatoes for the fries and perfectly battered cod or haddock deep fried to perfection and wrapped in newspaper. I would get an extra serving of fries for supplying all our non delivered Evening Reporters for the wrappers

I was the fastest runner and best able to keep that deep fried crispiness in the chips, so mom quickly learned to send me out to Hilltop instead of my brother.

Talk about a favourite food, made the way it was back then.

Some 70 years later, few of the fish and chip shops that were so plentiful in Galt, Hespeler and Preston, are still around but I remember the personal recipes that made each shop an area favourite.

Hespeler had the Hilltop and the Barking Fish. Preston boasted Al's on Concession, the Knotty Pine, Pioneer BBQ, Riverside Fish and Chips and the Rainbow Inn on King Street. Galt had my favourite original, Dot's on Grand Avenue, and later next-door Davey Jones which since 1973 has been Barnacle Bill's.

Galt also had the Queens Square Diner, Stoyle’s on Main, Golden Fish and Chips, Highlands Plaza, Long John Silvers and, of course, there's still Caz's Great Fish on Hespeler Road.

long johns
Photo courtesy Wayne Conrad Serbu.

Today fish and chips has made its way onto most restaurant menus and the few stand-alone fish and chippers are slowly disappearing.

Being a chef, I have prepared many versions of batter fried fish using just about all the batter recipes, methods and frying equipment available.

Traditional English style beer battered is the recipe most of us love. Breading like panko crumb, Korean ice water tempura and a simple water slurry of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt mixture recipe are others. All batters take carefully mastered deep fry techniques, temperature and timing.

A plate of fish and chips consists of a nice portion of ocean-caught cod, halibut, haddock or lake-caught perch, pickerel or white fish.

Today many households use the new countertop deep fryers and air fryer appliances. Some use cast iron like I still do.

If you're like me, fish and chips is one meal to enjoy from local purveyors that have served it for decades.

It seems everyone likes a good feed of their favourite fish and chips. Some like the halibut, some cod, some pickerel and some love bass and perch.

I like them all and here are some batter and coating recipes that make whatever fish you like taste the best.

Here are my never-fail fish batter recipes along with a mushy peas coleslaw and tartar sauce.

Pub Style Beer Batter

1 cup plain flour

1 cup of your favourite IPA beer

2 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks


Mix together the flour and the beer, and then fold in the egg whites.

Turn up the heat of the oil to 350 degrees F.

Dip the towel dry fish filet in the batter and fry for 4 minutes on each side. When golden brown. Let rest and drain excess grease on a paper towel then transfer on a wire rack.

Light and Crispy Batter (in the style made famous by Dot's in Galt)

1 cup pastry flour

1 cup all purpose flour

2 level teaspoons magic baking soda

1 teaspoon salt if desired

Into a bowl, sift the flour mixture ingredients.

Using a spoon, mixing and stirring in some ice-cold water till you get a light texture viscosity that coats the spoon and runs off like a ribbon.

Pat fish filet dry as possible and dip into the mixture and place into a deep fry vegetable shortening heated to 350 degrees and fry at 4 minutes flip over and continue for another 4 minutes.

Tartar Sauce

2 cups mayonnaise (500 ml)

1/3 cup capers, finely chopped (75 ml)

1/3 cup cornichons, finely chopped (75 ml)

1 large shallot, finely chopped

3 tablespoons finely chopped dill (45 ml)

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives (30 ml)

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (30 ml)

Salt and pepper, to taste.

Mushy peas

This is a fantastic recipe that is so quick and so simple and uses frozen peas.

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

1 bunch spring onions, chopped

1 handful fresh mint leaves chopped

16 oz. frozen peas

2 tbsp butter

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a pan and add the chopped onions, mint, and peas. Cover and leave for a few minutes to steam. Mash with a potato masher until smooth and when it's done gently add in the butter and season to taste.

Pennsylvania Dutch Cabbage Slaw

1 large new green cabbage

3 ribs of celery chopped

1 small onion thinly sliced

1 bell pepper julienne cut

3 carrots julienne cut

2 cups of brown sugar

Thin shred the cabbage and in a bowl add the other vegetables and mix with the sugar. Set cabbage mixture aside.

In a non aluminum pot add these next ingredients;

1/2 cup of fresh white vinegar

1/2 cup of fresh apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup virgin olive oil

1 tsp fresh crushed celery seed

1 tsp kosher salt

½ tsp of black pepper

Bring all to a boil and pour over cabbage, toss mixture and chill overnight.

Now if you can't get out to your favourite fish and chippers try these recipes.

Chef Wayne Conrad Serbu writes monthly for CambridgeToday. The former executive chef also shares recipes and memories from his more than five decades in the hospitality industry on his blog, the kitchenman.

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Wayne Conrad Serbu

About the Author: Wayne Conrad Serbu

Former executive chef Wayne Conrad Serbu shares some of his favourite recipes and memories from local restaurants in a monthly column
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