Even with 38 years in the fish and chip trade, the last 33 spent at Chez Fred in Bournemouth, Fred Capel still believes that every day is a school day.
There’s always something to learn, whether it’s a new product that could help build the business or a small piece of advice that might make it run more smoothly, his eyes and ears are always open. Focusing on the details and not resting until they are right is the way he and his team work.
So when Fred struggled with his previous batter mix last year, he decided to look into the alternatives available to maintain the consistently high standards that he and his team strive for.
Chez Fred is predominantly a fish-led shop with very few alternatives; 85% of the sales are fish and chips.
“Of the three main ingredients used in fish frying, it’s the batter that impacts the finished quality of our fried fish the most. We are fortunate to have a fairly busy shop, which makes oil management relatively easy for us,” says Fred. “If our batter is performing well, not only are we happy with the quality we are serving our customers, but also, in my view, frying is much easier and enjoyable.
“Since moving over to Ceres Natural Batter Mix last year, we are frying our fish at a lower temperature yet it seals well on impact with the oil, there’s no batter blow-off, and it fries to an even colour. Once cooked, the oil drains from the batter very quickly which, as we cook to order, has helped a lot with our speed of service when busy.
“An even, consistent colour is the starting point when we look at batter. If the cooked batter is uneven, pale or patchy in colour, the lighter patches will almost always go softer quicker. Batter that is crisp and even keeps so much better when packaged for takeaway and also deliveries, which we diversified into during the first lockdown and which are now a significant part of the business.”
Trying out Ceres Natural Batter Mix, it worked immediately for Fred, who adds: “It’s everything that our customers like in a batter, so it has a great colour, we can work it thin which most people like, and the most important characteristic for us is that the finished product is not greasy.”
Since switching batters, Fred has worked with Ceres to dig a little deeper and understand more about the components that make up flour and how the different variables, such as protein and moisture content affect its performance.
This has directly impacted how Fred now stores his batter, placing it in a room with a stable temperature and keeping it away from colder storage areas. He comments: “We’ve learnt so much on how the way batter is stored can impact the quality of the finished product. We found storing it in a cold storeroom or allowing the bags to come into contact with moisture negatively impacts the batter.”
With Chez Fred being a busy shop – even on a quiet shift there will be three chefs working the nine pan range – batter never sits around for long. Staff make it in three-litre batches using cold water from the fridge and use it within the hour. On days when demand is high, water is chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes for speed.
“Everybody’s different on this,” says Fred. “Some people like to make the batter the night before, some use tepid water, some ice cold – there’s no right or wrong way of making the batter, it’s whatever works for each operator and, most importantly, what creates a consistent product.”
Ceres Natural Batter Mix has proved to be very stable, a positive result for Fred, who would quite often pass on a few batches of his previous brand before settling on one.
The other benefit Fred has seen is an increase in yield. Using around 200g less mix for each three-litre bucket of batter to achieve the same consistency as his previous mix, this represents a significant cost saving.
Fred believes everyone owes it to themselves to try different products from time to time, but he is also aware that what works for one shop won’t necessarily work for another, and concludes: “Different frying mediums impact on how a batter fries, so certainly just because one person is getting on well with a particular mix doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everybody. My advice is to be curious, try different products, see how they work for you – who knows – you might try something that could improve your product and save you money.”