“I like things that are as difficult as possible,” says Bob Broskey, executive chef of RPM Seafood in Chicago. “I don’t like to be bored.”
When the fine seafood restaurant opened in January of this year, he had no idea just how difficult things were about to become—but the same principles that first attracted him to the rigors of upscale dining, and to the delicacy of seafood cooking, have applied to the pandemic too. In a fine-dining kitchen, he explains, there’s really no “normal” to settle into; one can never get too comfortable. “You can’t really rely on what you did yesterday,” he reflects. “Every day, you’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
This summer and fall, the restaurant focused on its sprawling 86-seat patio with sweeping views of the Chicago River and the downtown cityscape, its 100 socially distanced indoor seats, plus takeout and delivery. Looking ahead, Broskey is prepared to roll with the punches. “The rulebook has been thrown out the window,” he says. “We’re going to do whatever the city tells us is the right thing to do.”
These days, perhaps more than ever, Broskey and his team aren’t overlooking any chances to have a little fun. Though the menu leans ambitious, it also offers riffs on a couple of beach-shack favorites, such as fish and chips. “We love the playful take on highbrow-lowbrow,” Broskey says. Though cod is the traditional choice for this dish, he prefers the Dover sole, when he can get it. “Dover sole, if you really think about it, it’s the perfect fish for fish and chips,” he explains. “It’s super meaty; it’s got that beautiful, more gelatinous quality to it; the flake is great.”
He makes his batter with rice flour and fresh masa, which, in addition to rendering the dish gluten-free, creates an extra-crisp seal: “It’s kind of like coating your fish in a delicious tortilla chip.”
The restaurant’s Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning, 1,500-selection wine list has strong offerings in Champagne. The by-the-glass rotation always lists a marquis bubbly, such as Charles Heidsieck Brut Champagne Réserve NV. Broskey and RPM Restaurants wine director Richard Hanauer pair the fish and chips with the grower offering Henri Goutorbe Brut Champagne Special Club 2006. “We like this because it’s more Pinot, it’s more savory, which we think matches great with the masa,” Broskey says. “The minerality of it goes great with the fish. I mean, hot food and cold wine, fried food and bubbles—always fantastic.”
Broskey makes his work look fun, but the fact is, he’s a details guy, constantly striving to give his guests a moment of joy. “A couple grains of salt here, a couple ingredients overcooked there—all of those things are important,” he observes. “What I tell all the line cooks is, everything matters.”
When it comes to making this seaside favorite, taken indoors for winter, don’t get too wrapped up in a quest for perfection, Broskey counsels. “You can psych yourself out so easily, but at the end of the day, you’re just cooking yourself dinner,” he says. “As long as you’re paying attention to how hot things are, keep your fish ice-cold, dry it off before you dredge it—just get out of your own way and let the cooking happen.” Read on for his tips on how to do just that.
How to plan: When it comes to time management, Broskey advises, “This is a pretty laid-back recipe.” If you’re not one for extensive meal-planning, you could shop the night before, then prepare everything the same day, provided you clear some time in both the morning and evening. Or, if you like breaking up cooking projects into smaller pockets of time, you could space out the components of this preparation over a week so there’s less pressure on you the day you plan to serve.
The masa dough, a component of the fish batter, must be made at least six hours ahead, though it will hold for up to two days in the fridge. If you’re making your own quick tartar sauce (try the version here), that should be made at least an hour ahead of serving and will keep in the fridge for at least a week; just hold off on adding the parsley until you’re within two days of serving. The crispy potatoes can be made about an hour ahead of the fish. “The only thing à la minute would be the fish itself,” Broskey says.
Start with cold, dry fish. Leave the fish fillets in the fridge until right before you plan to batter and cook them. When cold, battered fish hits hot oil, Broskey explains, the fish flesh is less likely to become overcooked and dry out in the time it takes for the batter to crisp up and turn golden.
It’s also important not to skip the part where you pat the fish dry before dredging it in rice flour and masa dough; that step is there to cut down on hot-oil splatters during cooking.
An unusual batter: Unlike the traditional beer batter for fish and chips, which is more porous, Broskey’s recipe combines rice flour and masa dough for a better sealant. “The nice thing about the masa batter is it keeps all the moisture in,” he says. This works well with his choice of Dover sole, which is a little more delicate and less fatty than the typical cod, a fish that can withstand some of its moisture leaching out before serving. As an added bonus, Broskey points out, the entire dish is gluten-free. “Not many people that are gluten-free get to eat fish and chips,” he observes.
How to fry: This recipe represents a midpoint between the pan-frying many of us are eminently comfortable with and the full-on deep-frying that some simply leave to the experts. Here, you’ll fill a pot with just enough cooking oil that the fish fillets and cornichons can float; you’ll turn the fillets halfway through the cook time to give both sides solid contact with the hot oil. “This should be more of a shallow fry,” Broskey explains. “The less you fill [the pot], the less risk there is for anything to bubble over.” The pot choice is important too: “You want something that’s a very sturdy pot, something that’s very heavy, that’s going to help keep the heat as consistent as possible as you get it warm.” And for safety, “Make sure you lay everything away from you as you drop it in.”
Pairing Tip: Why Méthode Champenoise Bubbly Works with This Dish
The saline minerality, creamy depth, persistent fizz and edgy acidity of Champagne or another traditional-method sparkler will hook into the crispy exterior and rich interior of battered, fried white fish. Tartar sauce alongside will bring out the wine’s creamy quality.
Chef’s Pick Henri Goutorbe Brut Champagne Special Club 2006 (93 points, $84 on release)
Wine Spectator Picks Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée NV (92, $79)
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley NV (90, $28)
Dover Sole Fish & Chips
Recipe courtesy of chef Bob Broskey and tested by Wine Spectator’s Julie Harans.
Masa Tempura Batter
- 2 cups masa harina, such as Maseca
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
Place masa harina, kosher salt and 4 1/2 cups cold water in a blender, and blend on high for 1 minute. Transfer to an airtight container and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 6 hours and up to 2 days. When ready to cook, remove from the refrigerator and whisk to recombine.
- 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Pinch of sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Zest of 1/2 medium lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Peel potatoes and cut into wedges (try quarters for smaller potatoes, or sixths for larger potatoes). In a large bowl, toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, a generous pinch of sea salt and 1 grind of black pepper.
2. Place potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and transfer to oven. Roast until cooked through and crispy, 18 to 20 minutes, stirring once to brown both cut sides.
3. Immediately transfer potatoes to a large bowl and toss with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon zest and the oregano. Cover with foil and set aside to serve with the Dover sole. Can be made up to 1 hour ahead and kept uncovered, then reheated, uncovered, in a 350° F oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.
- About 4 cups vegetable or canola oil
- 1 cup rice flour
- Four 2 1/2-ounce fillets Dover sole or other meaty, flaky white fish, such as halibut, bass or fluke
- 1/2 cup whole cornichons
- Masa Tempura Batter (recipe above)
- Sea salt, for finishing
- Zest of 1/2 medium lemon, plus two unzested lemon wedges, for garnish
- Tartar sauce, such as this easy version
Special equipment: Deep-fry thermometer
1. In a Dutch oven or other heavy, high-sided pot, add the vegetable or canola oil to a depth of about 2 inches, or just under halfway up the side, to prevent splattering or bubbling over. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot, and heat over medium-high until the thermometer registers 375° F; the oil will begin to gently smoke.
2. While the oil heats, place the rice flour in a medium bowl and remove the fish from the refrigerator, patting dry with paper towels. Working in small batches, lightly dredge the fish and cornichons in the rice flour to coat completely, shaking off the excess; then dip the fish and cornichons in the masa batter to coat thinly. (There’s no need to shake off the excess.) If the potatoes are still cooking, set the coated fish and cornichons aside.
3. When the potatoes finish cooking, use tongs to immerse the fish and cornichons in the hot oil for 4 minutes, until golden-brown, gently turning the fillets halfway through. Work in batches if necessary in order not to crowd the fillets.
4. Drain the fish and cornichons on a roasting rack or cooling rack set over a sheet of aluminum foil or a large pan. Immediately sprinkle the top with sea salt and the lemon zest.
5. Plate fish with the crispy chips and serve warm with a lemon wedge and tartar sauce. Serves 2.