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Eric Akis: Get hooked on the Big Eric fish sandwich

I enjoy digging into a hot fish sandwich from time to time, and I can still remember one of the first ones I had more than 40 years ago. It’s hard not to because the place I ordered it from called it a “Big Eric.
This Big Eric sandwich is filled with crisply battered fish, cheese, lettuce and tangy tartare sauce. ERIC AKIS

I enjoy digging into a hot fish sandwich from time to time, and I can still remember one of the first ones I had more than 40 years ago. It’s hard not to because the place I ordered it from called it a “Big Eric.”

That place was the Mayfair Theatre in Sioux Lookout, a town in Northwestern Ontario I lived in when I was a teenager. The theatre also operated a takeout counter that sold burgers, shakes and other such delights.

One day, I walked in and saw a sign promoting the Big Eric fish sandwich. It featured a fried, crispy hunk of fish, lettuce, cheese and tartar sauce, all sandwiched in a tender bun. That sounded good to me, so I ordered it. It was good, and I loved the fact that it had Eric in its name.

Being a shy and not particularly inquisitive teenager, I never thought to ask why it was called a Big Eric. After I left Sioux Lookout, I would sometimes see Big Eric fish sandwiches offered at other Ontario eateries, from diners to drive-ins. From a recent internet search, I learned that’s still the case today.

It makes me think a food supplier selling battered fish years ago cooked up the name to help sell the product. But another side of me wants to think it was named after a fisher named Eric, a big happy guy who enjoyed making and eating this style of hot fish sandwich.

If you’re hooked on wanting to try a Big Eric fish sandwich, here’s how to make a delicious homemade version.

Big Eric Fish Sandwich

Crispy battered, fried fish stuffed in buns with tangy tartar sauce, cheese and shredded lettuce. For a casual supper, serve these tasty fish sandwiches with oven fries or potato chips and/or coleslaw. Recipe could be doubled.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: five or six minutes

Makes: two servings

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp baking powder

• pinch salt

• tiny pinch ground white pepper

1/4 cup cold soda water or beer

300 grams ling or other cod fillets, cut into two portions, any bones removed (see Note and Eric options)

• vegetable or peanut oil, for deep-frying

2 hamburger buns, split

• tartar sauce, to taste (see recipe below)

1/2 cup or more or shredded head or leaf lettuce

2 slices processed or cheddar cheese

Heat the oil in your deep fryer to 375 F (see Eric’s options). Thoroughly combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set a second bowl, one large enough to hold the fish, in a bowl filled with ice (see Note 2). Pour the soda water (or beer) into that bowl. Add the flour mixture and whisk until a smooth batter forms.

Set the two pieces of fish in the batter and turn to coat. Lower the fish into the hot oil and fry five or six minutes, turning once, or until richly coloured and crispy.

While the fish fries, spread cut sides of the buns generously with tartar sauce. Set a cheese slice and some shredded lettuce on each bottom bun. When fish is cooked, drain well and set a piece on top of each bottom bun. Set on top buns and serve.

Note 1: The fish fillet I used was about one inch thick. When cutting it into two portions, try and make them somewhat similar in size to the width of the bun.

Note 2: Keeping the batter very cold by setting it on a bowl of ice helps ensure it fries up crisply. When the cold batter hits the hot oil, it causes a bigger reaction, making it very crisp when cooked.

Eric’s options: Other fish fillets, such as haddock, halibut or snapper, could be used in this recipe. If you don’t have a deep fryer, set four or so inches of oil into a roughly eight-inch pot. Set over medium-high heat and warm oil to 375 F. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain that temperature. Keep a close on eye on the fish and the hot oil while frying.

Tartar Sauce

The classic condiment to serve with crispy fried fish.

Preparation time: Five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp sweet green relish or finely chopped sweet mixed pickle

1 Tbsp capers, finely chopped

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, or 1 tsp dried

1 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard, or to taste

• lemon juice, Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce and salt, to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate tartar sauce until needed. It will keep a week or more in the refrigerator.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.