Fried flathead with crazy water

Fried flathead with crazy water.
Fried flathead with crazy water. Photo: William Meppem

We always have this dish on the menu at our restaurants over summer. Traditionally, the fish is poached in the crazy water, but I love the texture of the crisp batter here. It’s perfect to serve now as tomatoes are in full swing and you could use them in just about every meal. You can also poach other things in the broth, such as prawns, chicken slices or mussels. For vegetarians, eggplant is great fried with the batter.


vegetable oil, for deep-frying

4 x 200g flathead fillets

plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper

lemon wedges, to serve

Beer batter

plain flour

350ml beer, chilled

Crazy water

5 vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped

3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

3 small dried chillies, crushed

60ml (? cup) extra virgin olive oil

? tsp sea salt


1. For the crazy water, put the tomato, garlic, parsley, chilli, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and 750ml (3 cups) water in a pan. Bring to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat and cook until the volume has reduced by half.

2. For the beer batter, add enough flour to the beer to give the consistency of pouring cream. Mix it with a chopstick (it shouldn't be completely smooth). Allow to stand for 10 minutes in the refrigerator, then add some ice cubes – the batter turns more crisp in the hot oil if it is cold.

3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan or deep-fat fryer to 180°C. Dip the flathead fillets in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, then into the beer batter, shaking off any excess, and gently put into the oil. Don't try to cook all the fish at once, do it in 2 or 3 batches. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the batter is golden brown, then remove the fish with a spider or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Keep warm while you cook the remaining fillets.

4. Divide the crazy water between 4 bowls. Place fish fillets on top. Sprinkle with sea salt and give a good grind of pepper, then serve with a lemon wedge.

Note: Known as "acqua pazza" in Italian, crazy water gets its name from the addition of the tomatoes and chilli to make the water "crazy". Try Adam Liaw's acqua pazza recipe here.

Find more of Neil Perry's recipes in the Good Food Favourite Recipes cookbook.

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