Traditional Fish and Chips

In 1859 Charles Dickens published ‘ A Tale of Two Cities ‘ and included a typical rich description of ‘Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil’ . This is the first acknowledged recorded use of the word chip used in reference to fried potatoes. In ‘ Oliver Twist ‘ he went on to mention fried fish warehouses. Fried fish had quickly become a staple part of the lower class diet during the Industrial Revolution when the new steam trawlers could fish out in the Atlantic and bring back fresh fish from Iceland and Greenland. The increasing ease of travel with the vast railway network being developed would enable the efficient, fast delivery of fish across the country from the great coastal ports. The fish was fried in deep pots usually in rendered animal fat, such as lard, which has a high smoking point and is able to reach very hot temperatures.

Chip shops became popular in the north of England and across the boarder in Scotland. Dundee City Council claims that “…in the 1870s, that glory of British gastronomy – the chip – was first sold by Belgian immigrant Edward De Gernier in the city’s Greenmarket.” The first chippy or chip shop stood on the present site of Oldham’s Tommyfield Market and is commemorated with a blue plaque. There some rivalry as to who first offered the combination, some confusion and more than a little north verses south pride involved. What is certain is in 1863, a John Lees began selling them in Mossley market in Lancashire while Joseph Malin opened the first recorded fish and chip shop in East End London in either 1860 or 1865. The concept of the fish restaurant was introduced by Samuel Isaacs a successful wholesale fishmonger. His first restaurant opened in 1896 serving what is now a fish and chip shop standard, fish, chips, bread and butter and a hot tea for nine pence.

Beer Battered FishHis restaurants were carpeted, had waited service, tablecloths, flowers, china and cutlery and for the first time what was seen to be the luxurious standards that went only with fine dining for the very wealth was available to the working classes. The chain expanded throughout London and across the popular south coast holiday resorts to eventually number thirty restaurants. His Brighton restaurant at the then prestigious location, number one Marine Parade eventually became a Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip shop, arguably now the countries most famous fish and chip restaurant chain and operator of the worlds biggest fish and chip shop in Guiseley, West Yorkshire.

Fish and chips became a staple of the nations diet and our number one favourite dish. Indeed it was so popular and such that during World War II fish and chips remained one of the few foods in the United Kingdom not subject to rationing. Today the fish used is commonly cod or haddock but other fish such as pollack, whiting, coley and even rock salmon can be substituted. Because of concerns about over fishing it is best to source from a reputable supplier or consult the Fish Online guide. More traditional chippies and some restaurants still use beef fat to fry their fish and chips because of the flavour it imparts. Obviously this makes the chips unsuitable for vegetarians and so many fry in blended vegetable oils,

Chips are traditionally thicker than French fries. How much cooking fat soaks into a chip depends on the surface area to volume of potato ratio, the frying temperature and how long they are cooked. Chips generally absorb less oil then fries due to their structure they do however take longer to cook than fries. Chips are often blanched or cooked through at a low temperature then flash fried to reheat and crisp the outside at a temperature between 175 and 190 °C (345–375 °F). The best potatoes to use are floury potatoes with a soft, dry texture look for King Edwards, Maris Piper, Romano or Desirée potatoes.

Many fish and chip shops traditionally use a simple water and flour batter, adding a little sodium bicarbonate or baking soda and a little vinegar to create lightness, as they create bubbles of carbon dioxide in the batter. Many restaurants now use a beer batter as the naturally present carbon dioxide in the beer lends a lighter texture to the batter. The sugars present in the beer also help produce a wonderful golden brown colour on frying. A simple beer batter might consist of a 2:3 ratio of flour to beer by volume. The type of beer makes the batter taste different, the alcohol itself is cooked off, so little or none remains in the finished fried fish.

My Perfect Beer Battered Fish

I cannot state how simple my recipe is just beer, flour and seasoning. No eggs, baking powder, turmeric for colour it could not be easier or more tasty. Experiment with some local ales and real lagers until you find your own favourite. Lagers are fine and produce very light fine results almost like tempura. I find a nice session bitter or IPA will create a nutty,tasty batter. Your batter is always better made slightly in advance to allow the flour to absorb a little of the liquid and let the gluten relax. Do not make it too early however as the raising agents will effervesce and disappear with time leaving a flat batter mix.

4 thick white fish fillets ( around 8 oz per portion )

4 oz Self raising flour plus a little for dredging the fish

A bottle of beer

Sea salt and and freshly ground black pepper

for the frying

3 pints lard or dripping to cook

Sieve the flour into a large bowl and add a generous amount of salt and pepper. With a whisk, mixing continuously, add the beer to the flour until you have a thick, smooth batter about the consistency of thick cream. Place the batter in the fridge to rest for between 30 minutes. In a large heavy bottom pan heat the oil to 160°C / 320 F using a thermometer to check. If you do not have a thermometer have a few cubes of stale white bread to hand. Place is a bread cube in the oil if it rises to the surface and cooks to a golden brown in a couple of minutes the oil is hot enough.

Take two tablespoons of flour and place in a shallow tray, season well. Dredge each fish fillet in the seasoned flour until covered. Shake off excess flour and dip into the batter mix before carefully lowering into the hot oil. Fry the fillets for around eight minutes or until the batter is crisp and golden, turning the fillets from time to time with a large slotted spoon.

When the fish is cooked using the slotted spoon remove the fish from the hot oil, drain on kitchen paper, cover with greaseproof paper and keep hot to serve with home made chips, plenty of lemon and chunky tartare sauce.

     * ( Fish and Chips are not as unhealthy as you would first think, fish and chips have 9.42 grams of fat per 100 grams – the average pizza has 11, a Big Mac meal with medium fries has 12.1. Fish and chips have 595 calories in the average portion with an average pizza around 871. For a healthier method of frying use vegetable oil instead of the beef dripping ).

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