Cod Cheeks; A Cheeky Sandwich
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    Serves 4 as a lunch
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Cod cheeks – what an interesting and intriguing ingredient! They are regarded as waste products by fishermen and as little gems by chefs. They are literally the cheeks of a cod’s head. It doesn’t sound great, but when you think about it, they are perfectly good to eat and are ideal bite-sized, boneless muscles that are very meaty indeed. Cod cheeks are also easy to use and as they are already small, they require very little preparation.

Mr. P loves fish finger sandwiches and not for love nor money will I let him purchase a certain well-known brand of pre-made frozen fish fingers, so this cheeky sandwich is just for Mr. P – isn’t he a lucky bloke?!

For this recipe, the cod cheeks are coated in a batter and then deep-fried. Biting through the crisp batter into the soft, flaky fish inside makes these little gems rather delicious. It’s a challenge for us to sell dishes such as this one as most people find the thought unappetizing, but perseverance and creative thinking has paid off and these cheeks are now a favourite choice on our British Larder menu.

Ingredients & Method

For the roasted aubergine chips

  • 2 large aubergines (250–350g each), trimmed
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ras el hanout
  • a sprig of fresh thyme, leaves only
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the fennel and kolhrabi slaw

  • 1 fennel bulb, preferably with the tops (leaves)
  • 1 kolhrabi (80–100g unprepared weight), trimmed and peeled
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the crispy battered cod cheeks

  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 40g cornflour
  • a pinch of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 250ml local real ale
  • 2 egg whites
  • 12 fresh cod’s cheeks (480–720g total weight)
  • sunflower oil, for deep-frying
  • 4 floury white baps, to serve

First, prepare the roasted aubergine chips. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways and scoop out and discard the soft seeds, leaving about a 1.5cm-thick layer of white flesh attached to the skin. Cut the prepared aubergine halves into long fingers, each about 5mm wide. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the aubergine fingers, garlic, ras el hanout, thyme leaves, olive oil and salt and pepper, tossing to coat the aubergines. Spread the aubergine fingers in a single layer on a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and keep hot. Meanwhile, prepare the fennel and kohlrabi slaw. Cut the tops from the fennel and finely chop them. Using a mandolin, finely slice the fennel and kohlrabi, then mix with the fennel tops in a bowl. Season well with salt and pepper and then add olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice to taste. Set aside.

In the meantime, make the batter for the cod’s cheeks. In a bowl, mix together the flour, cornflour, salt and pepper, egg yolk and ale to form a smooth paste. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until fluffy, stopping before they reach the soft peak stage. Fold the egg whites into the batter and then leave to stand for 5 minutes.

Prepare the cod’s cheeks. Remove the skin from the cod’s cheeks, then wash and pat them dry on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile, heat some sunflower oil in an electric deep-fat fryer or in a deep frying pan to a temperature of 160°C (or until a small piece of bread browns within 20 seconds in the hot oil). Once the oil is hot enough, dip the cod’s cheeks in the batter and then deep-fry them (in two batches) in the hot oil for 3–4 minutes or until crisp and golden brown all over. Cooking time will depend on the size of the cheeks. Using a slotted spoon, remove and drain the deep-fried cod’s cheeks on kitchen paper. Season with salt and serve immediately.

In the meantime, cut the 4 baps in half and toast both sides of each bap half. For each sandwich, place the bottom half of a toasted bap on to a serving plate and spoon some fennel and kohlrabi slaw on top. Arrange 3 crispy deep-fried cod’s cheeks on top, then place the top half of the toasted bap on top. Repeat to make 4 ‘toasted’ sandwiches. Serve the sandwiches with the warm roasted aubergine chips on the side.

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