After multiple news outlets broadcast the uplifting Perfect Fish Finger Sandwich story, I interviewed the creator, Ricky Panesar, to find out his own story.
Like many chefs Ricky Panesar cut his teeth frying and reheating at the local pub rather than flambéing and confiting at a Michelin 3-Star. One summer, on a surfing trip in southern France, Ricky ran out of money and needed work – quick. With a little creative CV work he bagged himself an interview for the head chef at an exclusive holiday resort. To his great surprise he landed the job. Within minutes of entering the kitchen he knew he’d bitten off more than he could chew…
There were no microwaves in sight, only stoves, commercial ovens and an order book written completely en français…. MERDE!
His immediate response was ‘to go at get absolutely bladdered at the welcome drinks’ which may have seemed counter-productive. Soon enough, over a glass of wine, one of the other cooks rumbled him for lack of experience. But, after another glass, he took a shine to Ricky and decided to mentor him. DIEU MERCI!
Over the next few months Ricky cooked stunning fresh produce the like of which he’d never seen before. The abundance of supply meant he could experiment with the leftovers; using brandy, wine and new-found techniques. A chef was born….VOILA!
Fast forward a few years and Ricky found himself back in a (high end) pub, The Old Queen’s Head in Islington. Here he was challenged to completely recreate the menu. All except for one item that he wasn’t under any circumstances allowed to change; the fish-finger sandwich: ‘The sandwich used Bird’s Eye fish-fingers and average, stale bread. But it was always the second best selling item on the menu. So who was I to argue!’
What’s the enduring appeal of the fish finger sandwich?.
“Well, it’s a great British institution and it sparks national debate. There’s something about the simplicity that has a universal appeal. Everyone has an opinion. Just look at my Twitter comments. This lady’s blasting me for using white bread! I think it’s to do with the nostalgia. Fish- finger sales sky rocketed during the lockdown. It’s comfort food for adults and children. It’s basic but there’s beauty in brevity”
What makes your fish-finger sandwich great?
“We’re an island nation – we have some of the best seafood in the world and we’re not eating enough of it. We sell too much to Europe. 2FINGERS uses the best cod loin which is the meatiest part of the fish. Most fish fingers are made from the fillet. The fish to bread ratio is crucial. Each slice of fresh white bread needs to be exactly half the size of the filling. So the total bread equals the total fish filling. And of course butter and the finest chunky tartare sauce.”
Your recipe calls for resting the fish in the sandwich for a few minutes?
“Yes it’s to steam the bread which changes the texture. Who doesn’t like a Filet-O-Fish !”
Ricky would later work under some great chefs including Tim Payne and Andy Campbell. He witnessed lots of substance abuse and racism even from some well known top chefs. This has a profound effect on him. Ricky is keen to promote BAME in Hospitality, which helps to bring to light these issues and progress the status quo.
After breaking his leg in an industrial accident he decided to go alone. A friend advised against taking out a massive loan and to start small – “the best advice I’ve ever had. ..I thought, rather than bricks and mortar, why not a pop up stall’ And of course Ricky knew what would sell well. 2FINGERS was born.
Your ‘perfect fish finger sandwich’ story was on featured on Good Morning Britain, BBC News, The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Star! How did the story break?
“There’s lots of heavy news at the moment. I’ve made over 15,000 fish fingers sandwiches so I wrote a blog about the recipe I’d been working on for 10 years. I made a few phone calls to media companies with the story, thinking nothing of it. The next thing I know my auntie’s texting me saying you’re on ITV! Even Matt Tebbut was talking about it on Saturday Kitchen’
What’s been the impact and what’s next?
“Enquires have increased massively. I’ve now got fish distributers contacting me through Instagram and the demand has diversified. I’m looking to hit the big time and I need to partner with a manufacturer. The plans are to expand the range. Initially I want to get in more specialist shops as they like to stock different premium brands from the supermarkets.”
How did you pivot your strategy during lockdown?
“If you look on the supermarket shelves, there is an abundance of every type of condiment; ketchups, mustards, mayos and hot sauces. But very few tartare sauces. And they’re just vinegary rubbish for the most part. There is a massive gap for well- made tartare sauce. So I focused on perfecting my chunky tartare sauce. The lockdown meant no festivals and pop ups, but people were buying more food from the shops than ever. I thought I better get serious! There are now four varieties: Original, Orignal vegan, spicy Creole, and fiery Wasabi.”
Your personality comes through really well on social media. Have you considered a YouTube channel?
‘Funny you say that, I actually have one! But it’s incredibly time consuming and you need a camera man. I’d be really interested in partnering with some of the YouTube food channels and influencers out there.”
Ricky’s only at the start of this journey. 2FINGERS has Dragon’s den pitch written all over it and the appeal goes far beyond the perfect fish finger sandwich. The right condiment can define a dish. Moreover a brand can become the gold standard with an entire category. French’s mustard is synonymous with every aficionado’s burger-sauce. Hot sauce? Franks is hard to beat. So let’s give 2 fingers to Coleman’s and get on the premium tartare train!
You can order direct from the website here: https://www.eat2fingers.com/2-fingers-tartare-sauce/