British custard is interesting stuff. Technically, custard is a combination of milk or cream and eggs, usually sweetened, and cooked until thick - but more than likely, the reference is to Bird's Custard, an invention of British chemist Alfred Bird, whose wife was allergic to eggs (he later invented baking powder, revolutionizing cooking as we know it.) Bird's custard is what Americans have come to know as "instant" vanilla pudding (or blancmange,) though this particular brand has an ingredients list I can really get behind: Cornflour, Salt, Colour (Annatto), Flavouring. Basically, it's naturally colored, flavored, unsweetened cornstarch. (For more on annatto color, see our very first video on mac and cheese.) Easy-peasy, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey - of course we're going to make it ourselves instead of using a mix...
Fish and vanilla pudding sounds weird, but fish has been getting cozy with vanilla in high-end restaurants for some time; who knew a 900-year-old-creature could be so trendy? Commercial vanilla pudding loses me with its sweet fake-y flavor and slippery texture; we'll fix that by eliminating the sugar and adding egg yolks (which will give us a lovely color, too: sorry, Mrs. Bird.)
I'm not about to bring frozen fish sticks into my house, so we made some! Here's how:
Fish Fingers Ingredients
1 lb mild white fish filets (we used flounder, but cod is even better)
All-purpose flour (about a cup)
Panko (about a cup)
Masa Harina (about a cup)
Salt (about a teaspoon)
Cooking spray (we used olive oil flavor)
First, we sprayed a cookie sheet well with cooking spray and preheated our oven to 400 degrees.
Sparky cut each fish filet down the seam to make two finger-shapes (our filets were pre-cut into smaller pieces; you may need to do more trimming.)
We created an assembly-line of flour, well-beaten egg, and a mixture of the panko, masa harina, and salt.
Each finger was lightly dusted with flour,
then dipped in egg,
then in the panko/masa crumbs.
It's a good idea to keep one hand as the "dry" hand and one as the "wet" hand - so only one hand touches the eggs. (We successfully "glued" some of the pointy end pieces together by dipping them in egg, sticking them point to end to "square them up," and then battering as usual.)
Dip the fish fingers in egg and crumbs again to ensure you have a very thick coating that will hold up to being dipped in custard (if you dislike heavy breading, skip this step.) Set the finished finger on your cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, and place on a high rack in your preheated oven. In about 5 minutes, flip them over and drizzle olive oil on the second side as needed. Bake for 5 more minutes, or until they are golden brown, crunchy and delicious.
Sherry Vanilla Custard Ingredients
(if you aren't making a giant bowlful, you may want to halve this recipe)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp sherry
3 cups milk
3 egg yolks
Put all the ingredients except the egg yolks in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and shake until they are completely combined.
Pour into a saucepan, whisking away any remaining lumps. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly so the bottom does not burn. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Whisk the egg yolks together. Whisk a small bit of the hot custard into the egg yolks to "temper" them (so they don't scramble when they hit your hot custard.) Keeping the custard off the heat, whisk in the tempered yolks, and put the custard back on low heat, whisking furiously until it thickens fully (it should be pourable but cling thickly to a spoon.)
Pour the custard through a strainer to catch any lumps, and serve hot with the fish fingers.