Nothing Fishy about It: England’s Iconic Fish and Chips

(Photo courtesy of E. Forrest)

(Photo courtesy of E. Forrest)

Britain’s national dish is no longer bloody roasted beef, but rather fish‑and‑chips: batter‑fried fish and French fries, that is. Without fish‑and‑chips, eaten by millions of Englishmen everyday, the British economy would probably plummet and the national health care service grapple with more heart patients, no doubt. But fish‑and‑chips must be done just so in order to qualify as the REAL thing.

First of all, in England, the fish has to be right: flounder, sole, cod, or plaice are the fish of choice. Thousands of tons of these fish go on the auction block in Britain each week to meet the persistent demand for fish‑and‑chips. Secondly, along with the fish, several tons of potatoes end up served on the side as “chips.” And thirdly, to cook it all, at least 28,000 employees heat up 250 tons of cooking fat per day. Let’s not even discuss the mashed green peas, which to an American, make no sense at all … .

Of course, the fish‑and‑chips that result might not come rolled up in a newspaper cone anymore and haven’t been since 1968 (we must think of sanitation these days, mustn’t we?), but the basic recipe is still the REAL one established by 1838. There was even a book written about fish‑and‑chips, entitled The Gourmet’s Guide to Fish‑and‑Chips, by Pierre Picton.

Some vendors get around the newspaper ban by first wrapping the fish‑and‑chips in plain white paper and then surrounding that with newspaper. Many people suggest that the English are not as literate anymore since they no longer have The Daily Express or The Times in their hands at least occasionally. Who knows? However, one man actually claimed that he found a long‑lost relative through an ad he read while eating fish‑and‑chips!

Whatever the fish‑and‑chips vendor wraps your catch in, it is absolutely necessary to ply your portion with plenty of salt and malt vinegar. And you must eat the lot while it is HOT. Scorching. Accept no imitations.

But don’t forget that fish-and-chips grew out of the Jewish practice of frying food; Joseph Malin opened the first documented shop sometime in in the 1860s . This iconic English dish dates to the 19th century! What?

“Give me your order, G’vnor, it’ll be comin’ right up, it will.”

Mashed green peas optional.

Fish and Chips (Photo used by permission.)

 REAL Fish‑and‑Chips

Serves 4

4 large fish fillets (flounder, cod, plaice, or sole), cut into 3   pieces – about 2 pounds

1 1/2 pounds of potatoes, cut into French fries

Oil for deep frying


1  cup all-purpose flour

1 12-oz. bottle of beer
Pinch of salt
Dredging flour:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t. Old Bay Seasoning or to taste
Dredge the fish in the flour mixture first, then swish the fish around in the batter – shake off excess. Fry until golden brown.
Serve with tartar sauce and french fries – I’ve started using Ore-Ida frozen fries, which are quite good, and you can roast them int he oven while you’re frying the fish. Alternatively, you can make your own oven fries, too. . Keep warm in a 250 degrees F oven.

Dredge the fish in the seasoned flour, heat the oil to 365 degrees F, dunk the fish in the batter, and fry the fish until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper. Serve immediately with vinegar and salt and the chips.

Note: I use a Fry Daddy to maintain temp control while frying.

Photo used by permission of Ineke Kamps.

Photo used by permission of Ineke Kamps.

© 2016 C. Bertelsen


4 thoughts on “Nothing Fishy about It: England’s Iconic Fish and Chips

  1. Gensdarmes, your Cairo fish story sounds fascinating. Of course, the British were in Egypt for some time, so I am wondering if that is how the fish dish came into being there, ot since fish-and-chips is a take-off on a Jewish way of cooking fish, if that could have been the influence, or perhaps the Portuguese way of cooking fish that became tempura in Japan?


  2. I’m not one of those who like fish dishes generally, and my first encounter with fish and chips was in a theater in London some time ago. The show was Jesus Christ Superstar, and we sat in the balcony. People came to the show with fish and chips which they set on the balcony’s rail and ate throughout the show. In my time in London, I came to like fish and chips. My next encounter with similar dishes was at a restaurant on the banks of the Nile in Cairo. The fish dishes were served on enormous platters, which we ate outdoors, and the fish was marvelous. The restaurant was home to large numbers of cats which shared the space and the fare with the diners.


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