American Fish and Chips Sauce
Fish and Chips in Arizona?
Arizona is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think of fish and chips, but there is a variety of fried food shop here in the southwest that claims this name, and it isn't half bad. The idea here is "cheap" and this American variety of fish and chips comes with a special red sauce that each chain of restaurants makes in much the same way. This sauce goes with everything on the menu, and is the simplest thing to make. I'll show you how.
[Image Credit: http://phoenix.metromix.com...]
Pete's Fish and Chips in 1955
About "The Sauce"
I hail from Gilbert, Arizona. We border no oceans, we have only seas of sand, and our largest river was dammed up decades ago leaving nothing but a sandy gulch and an artificial "lake" along the Tempe Riverview area held together by two balloon dams. So, needless to say, our seafood selection is pretty slim, and often comes in on a truck from somewhere more aquatically endowed. Nevertheless, we are home to several "Fish and Chip" franchises and independent restaurants across the valley. The restaurants are often small shops that take cash only, and serve an assortment of fried fare from square fish fillets, and breaded shrimp, to fried imitation krab sticks and chicken nuggets. The "chips" are actually french fries -- yes I know that's basically what "chips" are in London too, but chips are thicker and fresh cut from a potato -- which come out of a frozen bag. Some of these shops offer burgers, some offer their fish fillets in taco form, and others will put it on a bun and call it a sandwich. It's cheap, it's not exactly fresh from the wharf, but it's tasty, and almost all of these shops have one thing in common, "The Sauce." This red sauce is often the only condiment provided for everything on the menu. Each item is provided with a specific tub count, and each additional sauce tub costs around 25 cents with larger containers available. Each shops special sauce is just a little bit different, but the basic ingredients are the same, and any variation has more to do with what vendors they get these ingredients from than any special recipe awaiting patent approval.
Probably the most famous of these shops is Pete's Fish and Chips centered in Mesa, Arizona. The shop is cash only, and is the model shop that all the others in this state seem to emulate. Pete's has been selling fish to desert dwellers since 1947 and all the other shops are merely a copy. "Pete's Special Sauce" is the sauce I'm describing here today, and the recipe is considered a secret (kind of like McDonald's special sauce that we all know is just thousand island dressing). They try to claim it as an English style fish and chips, but I'm sure many from that country would scoff at such an idea. In any case, it's still good eatin', and if you want to try this special sauce on your own chicken nuggets or fried cod fillets at home, then you've come to the right place. Pete's customers rave about this sauce, and it's the best thing on dinosaur shaped nuggets since Thai sweet chili sauce! Its simplicity makes you wonder how it could possibly be considered so special, but when you taste it, you begin to question why McDonald's hasn't wrapped it up in a little tub and served it with McNuggets. Now, I've never worked for Pete's, I've never worked for any fish and chip joint for that matter, but I tend to know what it is I'm tasting, and at first I scoffed this sauce because I could tell immediately what was in it. Then, after using it over and over with everything from fish to fries to chicken and even on a fish taco, I grew to appreciate the genius in this simple, all-purpose sauce.
If you've tried Pete's Fish and Chips sauce, you probably noticed that the sauce has a tomato base, but there is more flavor than simple tomato paste. When it comes to fast food, you don't have time to mix many ingredients, especially at the rate your sauce is flying out the drive-through window. You also use what's available from your food-service warehouse and the most common tomato sauce that any food-service provider will carry is, of course, ketchup, or catsup, whatever floats your boat. Ketchup is the perfect base for just about any fast-food sauce. It's cheap, it's plentiful, and it already contains the common saucy seasonings, vinegar, garlic, salt, sugar, and onion powder. How many burger joints have you been to that offer a secret fry sauce that is nothing more than ketchup and mayonnaise? In fact, thousand island dressing is basically ketchup, mayonnaise, and relish, yet it is one of the most popular "secret" sauces for burgers around the US.
Just Add Water
Ketchup is obviously too thick to be used by itself for fish and chips, it must be thinned somehow. The best way to thin any paste or sauce is by adding water, good 'ol H-2-O. You'd be amazed how much water you can add to ketchup and have it still taste like a yummy sauce. I've found that the best mix ratio of ketchup to water is just a smidgen more ketchup than 1:1. This maintains the sauciness of our condiment, yet creates something thin enough to coat and not glop over what we are dipping into it.
Just a little bit of spice makes everything nice!
By itself, this watered down ketchup is just tasty enough to dip fish, chicken, or fries into and walk away satisfied, but this just isn't special enough to be considered a special sauce. Pete's Fish and Chips sauce is zesty, almost spicy, and the best way to add a little bit of spice to your sauce is by using hot sauce. Which sauce you use, and how much will determine how special this sauce is to you. I started with Red Rooster cayenne pepper sauce (same as Louisiana brand, but cheaper with a different label.) This provided some spice, but it just wasn't right. Now, I'm an avid user of sriracha sauce (you know, the one with the rooster on the bottle), and would even go so far as to call myself a junky. Move over Frank's, I put that *bleep* on everything! I only started with the cayenne pepper sauce because I thought the thinning process was somehow a result of how thin the hot sauce was. I was wrong. I can't give you an exact ratio for the hot sauce, this is up to your personal tastes. I like it hot, but my wife only likes a little kick, so I err on the side of not sleeping on the couch. I just add a few swirls of sriracha until the hot sauce isn't overpowered by the ketchup and gives the sauce a noticeable kick.
Just get to the recipe already!
Okay, so enough expository on my experience with cheap fish sauce. The following recipe will give you about a cups worth of sauce, enough for roughly 50 chicken nuggets, depending on how much you like to dip. You can always save some of it for later, and if you're a regular nugget-head or fish-stick-fanatic, you should make extra for later in the week. You can even save yourself on those extra sauce tubs when you visit those hallowed shops of fish-and-french-fry.
- 1/2 cup Ketchup (name your brand, cheaper brands are more likely to taste like what's at the shops.)
- 1/2 cup water (the shops probably use tap water, but I use bottled water for all my cooking.)
- Hot Sauce to taste (this is where you experiment. I recommend sriracha, but if you like Tabasco, go for it!)
First measure the water in a glass measuring cup (or whatever) and then add the ketchup until you hit just above the 1 cup line. Mix with a fork or small spoon until the ketchup is completely dissolved. Take a taste. If you want it a bit thicker, add more ketchup, if you want it thinner, add more water. This is not rocket science! Once you're satisfied with the thickness, add just a little hot sauce, mix until blended, and taste. Rinse and repeat until the sauce has just the right kick. Thinner, vinegary sauces will of course thin the sauce even more, but if you're adding that much, you're frakking crazy anyway. When the sauce is perfect (this is subjective), pour it into a dipping cup or custard bowl. The sauce will spread across the surface of a plate, so I strongly recommend some sort of container or tub. If you want to go for that fish and chips experience, those little 2oz tubs can be purchased at your local big-box or dollar store fairly cheaply. Dip whatever breaded or fried potato based comestible into your sauce and eat with little regard for civilization or manners. Forks are for wussies.
[Image Credit: http://dailydishinblog.blogspot.com]