“…there was about fish-and-chips a sound democratic touch that no other food possessed; the poorest person could shop alongside the poshest…You were all one in the kingdom of fish-and-chips.”
Bill Naughton, Saintly Billy: a Catholic Boyhood
“It was the smell of their childhood: the smell of fish and chips. Every Saturday night their parents had sent them out for five packets and they’d carried them back, warm as puppies, through the lamplit streets.
‘Do you remember the batter, all sizzled and gold?’ asked Lily.
‘And the soft whiteness when you got through to the fish?’ said Violet.
‘The way the chips went soggy when you doused them with vinegar?’ said Rose.
And as they stood there, they thought they would die if they didn’t just once more taste the glory that was fish and chips.”
Eva Ibbotson, The Secret of Platform 13
Here it is: the recipe you’ve all been waiting for. Ask an American to name one British dish, and the answer will almost always be, “fish and chips.” So iconic is this meal that you may be tempted to think that it is as old as Britannia herself. Not so. It wasn’t until the 1850s that Brits began to cut potatoes into strips and fry them, and 20 years later that they came to be known as “chips.” First cooked to accompany steak, chips were soon paired with fried fish, which was so plentiful and cheap that the meal became a staple of the working class, wrapped in newspaper and eaten by hand.
These days, every high street worth its salt has a local “chippie” and even fine dining establishments offer elevated takes on the national treasure. Making this dish at home requires a little extra effort, but it is well worth it. In the UK, cod, haddock, halibut, plaice and sole are favorites, but feel free to use any firm, white-fleshed fish. Tilapia is a good, inexpensive option, and fries nicely. For potatoes, I would go with the versatile and easily available Yukon Gold.
You do not need a deep fat fryer to make fish and chips. A saucepan, wok or Dutch oven will work. I recommend peanut oil for the frying; it has a high smoke point, a neutral taste and is low in saturated fat. For a truly authentic touch, make sure you have malt vinegar on hand for liberal sprinkling. Other traditional accompaniments include bread and butter and gherkins.
- 2lbs potatoes (Yukon Gold are best)
- 2lbs white fish (cod, halibut, or tilapia)
For the batter
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- Bottle of beer or sparkling water
- Peel and cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch thick chips (think steak fries—they should be chunky, not skinny).
- Place the potatoes in a pan of cold water and bring the water to a boil. Boil the potatoes until they are just cooked, but still a little firm.
- Carefully drain the chips and place them on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Put the sheet in the refrigerator for an hour to remove the moisture from the potatoes.
- While you are waiting, combine all the batter ingredients, except the beer, in a bowl. Gradually add the beer until the batter is the consistency of heavy cream.
- When the potatoes are ready to come out of the fridge, heat the peanut oil in pan and warm it up to 300 degrees. Fry the potatoes until golden brown, in two batches if necessary. After frying, set the potatoes aside.
- Prepare another baking sheet. Line the sheet with parchment paper and place a wire rack on top. Heat the oven to 200 degrees.
- Increase the temperature of the oil to 375 degrees.
- Measure the flour onto a plate and coat each piece of fish in flour, shaking to remove excess, and then dip it in batter.
- Holding the battered fish by the narrowest end, carefully dip the other end in the oil until the oil bubbles up, then slowly slide the piece into the pan so the fish is floating on the surface of the oil.
- [DO NOT simply drop the fish into the oil. Scalding oil will splash up, and the fish will sink to the bottom of the pan and stick.]
- Fry two or three pieces of fish at a time, depending on the size of your pan.
- When the fish is golden brown and crispy, carefully remove it from the oil and place it on the prepared wire rack.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven to stay warm as you fry the remainder of the fish. You MUST put the fish on a rack if you want it to stay crispy. Placing it directly on the baking sheet will cause the batter to become soggy.
- When all the fish is fried and warming in the oven, check the temperature of the oil to make sure it is still at 375. Return the chips to the pan for a final fry. This should just take a couple of minutes and will ensure the chips are crispy on the outside and fluffy and soft inside.
- When the chips are finished, remove the fish from the oven and serve together, with tartar sauce if desired.
- Feeling British? Of course you are. Well done you.
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