The Doctor: "You're not scared of anything! Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box, man eats fish custard, and look at you! Just sitting there. Do you know what I think?"Amelia Pond, age 7: "What?"The Doctor: "Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall."[Amelia suddenly looks scared.]
It starts out as a long, jokey scene in "The Eleventh Hour," the season premiere of Doctor Who that aired two weeks ago in Britain and tonight on BBC America. Like Tigger finding out what he "likes best," the newly regenerated Doctor (new body, new mouth, new rules) samples a series of foods presented to him by little Amelia Pond in an otherwise deserted house at night. Finally he chooses the winning entry: fish fingers and custard. Amelia takes this in stride, finding it funny, until the Doctor mentions the menacing, otherworldly crack in her bedroom wall.
After this scene first aired, a lot of fans, myself included, became curious whether "fish custard," as the Doctor calls it, is an unlikely taste sensation, or merely disgusting. I did a search, and discovered two actual, preexisting fish custard recipes from Asia, and one from New England. Videos appeared on YouTube of fans eating the Doctor Who-inspired combination, presumably just to prove that they had. I love custard, and don't have it nearly as often as I'd like. So it wasn't long before I ventured out to two local grocery stores, trying to replicate this culinary treat.
It was surprisingly hard. I didn't want to buy all the ingredients to make it from scratch (we don't keep sugar in the house), and the only item at Safeway with the word "custard" in it was frozen crème brulée. They didn't even have flan, which is Mexican custard. And fish sticks? The smallest package they had contained 30 of them. So I made do with those. Albertson's did no better, but they did have French toast sticks, which I read somewhere substituted for the fish fingers in the shooting of the episode.
So I took these three purchases home, heated the fish and french toast in the oven, thawed the fancy-name custard, and broiled the sugar on top to caramelize it.
And you know what? I really liked it! Not just the french toast dipped in custard, as Matt Smith ate on set, but actual fish sticks dipped in the custard. No, really! It's no weirder, in terms of taste, than getting maple syrup on your sausage. In fact I liked it so much that I had it twice (the crème brulée is sold in two ceramic bowls per package), bought more of the crème brulée and had the combination twice more. Later servings did not include the French toast, because I'd run out, but it didn't matter. Fish custard, even with real fish, is rather good! As long as you don't add tartar sauce.
The new Doctor, meanwhile, is much better than "rather good." I love pretty much everything about "The Eleventh Hour," especially the performances by Matt Smith as the Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, and Caitlin Blackwood as Amy's younger self, Amelia. The writing, by celebrated Doctor Who fan and showrunner Steven Moffat, is excellent as well. The following two episodes, "The Beast Below" and "Victory of the Daleks," don't quite reach up to the standard of that first story, but Smith and Gillan are consistently wonderful.
Ultimately, I don't really care whether you believe me about the fish custard, or taste test it yourself. I liked it, but you may not. But if you have access to the new series of Doctor Who, on the BBC, on BBC America or from some dodgier source, I urge you to give it a try.
Meanwhile, I'm seriously considering another custard run to Safeway. After all, I'm not out of fish sticks yet!