I spent a week during the summer in the glorious sunshine, utterly miserable. That we even had a summer was a surprise to all of us, but blue skies abounded and I sat in the garden, working from home and on my tan. The misery came from having torn every ligament in my left ankle from a drunken trampolining accident. I was housebound, a support boot strapped from foot to knee. I managed to crutch myself down the road to Lordship Lane before I realised that if I were to buy any more than one item, I wouldn't actually be able to hold anything and hobble myself home at the same time. I made the most of it; Moxon's were had cod cheeks on sale and I decided to deep fry these silky nuggets. They cheered me up some.
Salt and pepper squid is one of my favourite bog-standard-Chinese dishes. It's not easy to get a really decent version - often, they're covered in a thick, tough batter without the hint of spice the decent ones hold but when done well, they're addictive, the chilli building up with every mouthful. I like them crisp, light and greaseless. Applied to cod cheeks, these required just a dusting of flour, a brief frying in oil to keep them light and moist. Anything more cumbersome tends to slip off the flesh like a jacket, dismissed at the bottom of the plate.
Biting into these cod cheeks is far different from squid (obviously) - they don't have the resistance against the teeth like squid do, but rather the flaky loveliness you get from a fillet of firm, white fish. Liberal use of Sichuan peppercorn in the dusting gives them a hint of lemon, a tingling of the lip. The double-cooking method of deep frying and then stir-frying with chilli give it that extra oomph.
Salt & Pepper Cod Cheeks
Serves 4 as part of a multi-dish meal
A large handful of cod cheeks
5 level tbsp of potato flour - essential for extra crunchiness
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
Hefty pinch of white pepper
A few grinds of black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 large red chillis
1/2 a red onion
A wedge of lime
A couple sprigs of coriander
Vegetable oil, to deep and stir fry
Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry frying pan, then grind to a fine powder. Mix with the potato flour, black and white pepper and the salt.
Heat the oil (enough to cover the cod cheeks) until a breadcrumb sizzles vigorously. Meanwhile, slice the red onion into half moons and slice the red chilli into rounds.
Line a rack with kitchen paper. Dust the cod cheeks well in the flour mixture, and then fry, taking care not to overcrowd the oil as it'll make it drop in temperature. Fry for a few minutes, turning over now and again. Be careful, as they're quite delicate. Remove and drain on the kitchen paper.
Pour away all the oil but 1 tbsp (if using a wok) and stir-fry the red onion briskly, until just softened. Add the red chilli and the cod cheeks, and stir-fry very carefully for a few seconds. Turn out onto a plate, decorate with coriander and a wedge of lime, and serve immediately.