The blue-and-yellow cod hanging outside Earl’s Sandwiches in Clarendon is a sure sign that evening commuters have a new option for dinner: fish and chips, fried to order.
Shop co-owner Stephen Dugan hung out his Cap’n Earl’s shingle a few weeks ago. His lunchtime trade is gangbusters during the day, having grown along with the condos and businesses on this stretch of Wilson Boulevard since he opened in late 2005. The 45-year-old New England native had been looking for just the right lure to boost traffic in later hours when he decided to re-create a favorite.
“I love Scotland. I went for the third time this past summer,” he says. “There are chip shops all over the place. I finally asked the guys at Jack’s [a chain] about how they do it.”
So Dugan now uses the same basic batter ingredients — baking soda, flour, water — adding a little salt and pepper, or beer and the flavor of chipotle to a separate, special batter. He dips six-ounce cod fillets from JJ McDonnell in flour before battering and frying them in canola oil. In five minutes, that classic, sturdy crunch develops around fish that becomes snowy white and moist.
A purist need look no further than the bottles of malt vinegar on the table, but Dugan offers housemade sauces that include tartar, chipotle mayonnaise, sweet curried mango, a vinegar-mayo combo, chipotle barbecue and chipotle ketchup.
On the potato end, Dugan sticks with the twice-fried technique he uses for the skin-on, medium-cut specimens that accompany his sandwiches. They sit nicely atop a Fish and Fries sandwich with sweet pickle chips, a variation on Dugan’s popular Pork and Fries sandwich. He ups the ante further with his Jerk Fish sandwich by giving the cod an initial swim in a jerk marinade. The fried pieces are served on a soft sesame seed roll with honey mustard, lettuce and tomato.
“I’m used to chips that are cut a bit thicker,” he said. “But this fish is spot-on. Very crisp. Scottish chip shops win fish-and-chip-making competitions all the time, so I’m not at all surprised.”
Dugan is still experimenting with to-go packaging. He didn’t like the steamed effect caused by restaurant parchment paper and has resorted to Styrofoam containers for now. To keep things traditional, I’m thinking the fish-wrapping concern I work for could yield the right material.
Cap’n Earl’s fish and chips are available from 4 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. $6.99, small; $9.99 large. 2605 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-248-0150. www.earlsinarlington.com.