- Food and Cooking
English Fish & Chips
English fish and chips - the secrets
Ah, proper English fish and chips. Notice that I don't say 'British'. That's because there are definite regional differences. In fact, the Yorkshire meal is different to the Lancashire version (Which are best? Yorkshire of course!) and the two counties are right next door to each other.
Both these counties are in the north of England which is where this dish first became popular in the nineteenth century.
Great Britain is an island of course, so the fishing industry, largely situated in the north, provided the very best fish for this cheap and filling dish.In America, British pubs usually serve this dish but it's nothing like the real thing.
You can't just fry some anonymous seafood, place it next to some fries and think that's the authentic dish. In England, we can have conversations lasting for hours about where to get the best. (Whitby, undoubtedly).
There's many a discussion about why chippy A is better than chippy B, the national association has annual awards and contests, and many websites and books are devoted to the great English chip.
For us as kids, fish and chips formed our Saturday lunch, week in, week out. One of us would be sent to the chippy for 'fish 'n' chips four times, wi' scraps, four teacakes, three sloppy pays and a scallop wi' curry sauce for our mam. Wrapped, ta'.
FIRST, FORGET THE CALORIES
To be authentically English, both the fish and the chips should be deep-fried. Oven-baking or any other cooking method just won't do at all.
VEGETARIANS - YOU CANNOT HAVE JUST THE CHIPS
OK, today some chippies might use a vegetable oil for frying but to make the real English version animal fats have to be used for frying. Usually this is beef dripping or lard. Sorry.
Over the years, I've probably had many varieties from the chippy. There wasn't any requirement for the shop to let you know what sort of fish it was - anything white and reasonably flaky would do. Coley was often used in cheaper establishments. More usually though, haddock and cod are used.
This is important. Before you batter the fish, place it on a tray of flour and dredge it, shaking off the excess. And remember, this has to be ordinary white flour, none of those posh types.
Forget fancy beer batters. The batter used traditionally is a simple one, using flour, water and a little bicarb to add lightness and bubbles. If you want to use a batter made with milk instead of water, it's still a good idea to add water too. All-milk is too rich. Dip the fish into the flour, then the batter and let any excess drain away. You then need to deep fry it for about five minutes.
English chips bear as much resemblance to American fries as porridge does to oatcakes - they start with the same basic ingredient but are prepared very differently. English ones are much, much bigger. If you cut them in advance, keep them in cold water and then pat them dry in a tea towel before you plunge them into the hot fat. Yes, dripping or lard again. Don't think 'steak fries' and be tempted to add any seasoning at all before cooking. Floury potatoes, such as King Edwards, are the best.
PLATES NOT REQUIRED
My mum would try to be posh and while one of us kids was at the chippie collecting lunch, she'd get out some plates, plus knives and forks. This isn't even remotely necessary. Traditionally, the meal was wrapped in plain white paper (for hygiene) and then in lots of newspaper (for insulation while you walked home). This was a good way of recycling - most families used to take their old newspapers to the chippy after they'd been read. Then after the meal, the discarded papers would go on the fire, helping to heat the house. Because they's absorbed most of the grease from the meal, they were perfect to use for starting the fire in the mornings. Now, you're more likely to get your meal in nasty styrofoam containers. Yuk.
SALT AND NON-BREWED CONDIMENT
Having a mum who liked to be posh, we had vinegar at home. But if we seasoned the meal in the chippie, it would be with salt and non-brewed condiment, a vinegar substitute. Sometimes we'd get fancy and have tomato ketchup too. That's especially good in butties.
NO REAL NEED FOR KNIVES & FORKS EITHER
This dish is basically street food and is normally eaten with the fingers. Traditionally, chippies supplied little wooden forks to help out. But often, the whole lot is put into a teacake (see below) and eaten as a huge sandwich.
I have to admit that I have never made mushy peas. They are marrowfat dried peas that have been reconstituted until they are, well, mushy. They have to be soaked overnight and then cooked for ages - so everyone avoids that palaver and gets them from the chippy. An extra treat with mushy peas is a little mint sauce - the way they are served with 'pie'n'pays'.
Yes, you can get mushy peas
You might not be able to buy mushy peas locally but that doesn't stop you from serving a properly traditional English supper. Simply buy them online and have them delivered to your door.
The teacake, breadcake, bap debate
This meal is traditionally served with a teacake. Or a breadcake. Or a bap. And yes, they are all the same thing.
Where I come from, they are teacakes. In the next town, they are breadcakes. So a couple of miles in the other direction and they are baps.But whatever we call them, they are white bread with absolutely no fanciness. No sprinkled sesame seeds. No fancy flours. Just good old ordinary white bread.
Even if you're not making a huge sandwich, you will still automatically make a chip buttie as soon as you get your parcel home.
To do this, you will forget that such a thing as cholesterol exists and you'll liberally spread both slices (the teacake will already be sliced in half, lengthwise) with a good butter, most probably Lurpak brand. You'll then pile on as many chips as you like to make your delicious buttie.
The butter will melt, it will be a cardiologist's nightmare but will be truly, delectably delicious.
You will notice that above, when placing the chippie order, I asked for scraps. It's not usual to have this meal without scraps and even better, there's no charge for them.
Scraps are literally that; small pieces of batter that have collected in the fat while your meal has been frying. And they are wonderful. I could quite easily throw caution and calories to the wind and have a plateful of scraps or even a scraps buttie on a butter teacake with gollops of tomato ketchup...
WHAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE WITH YOUR MEAL
If you're being authentic, there will be no pandering to modern tastes. Do not be tempted to add a wedge of lemon to your traditional English supper. Tartare sauce might be served with your meal if you're in a pub but that's a no-no too. A salad garnish? Perish the thought!
WHAT YOU WILL DRINK
You will either be having this dish for lunch, or you'll be eating it after an evening in the pub. This means that you will drink Dandelion and Burdock. If your chippy's a good one, they'll sell it. You don't want a beer at lunchtime because it'll make you go to sleep and if you've had an evening in the pub, you've already had enough - so it has to be Dandelion and Burdock. So there.
Dandelion and Burdock
This is the drink to have with traditional fish and chips. Dandelion and Burdock is even mentioned by chef Heston Blumenthal as the perfect accompaniment!
- Do not believe anyone who tells you that the English eat fried Mars Bars from the chippy. This is a Scottish thing.
- Fish and chips were seen at one time as a 'lower-class' dish and there are stories of snooty housewives who would pay street children a couple of pennies to fetch their meal for them. These posh ladies weren't going to be seen in a 'common' chippy!
- In 1917 Bradford (now the curry capital of the north) had 303 fish and chip shops.
- The traditional paper wrapping wasn't just a great way of recycling and an excellent method of keeping your meal hot, the paper also absorbed a lot of the fat.
- A fish and chip shop is referred to by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist written in 1838.
- Probably the most famous chippy in the world is Harry Ramsden's which began near Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1928. The company has franchises worldwide today.
- This meal was a staple during the Second World War as it wasn't subject to rationing.
- Twenty five percent of all the potatoes grown in England become chips.
- Thick English chips are much healthier than the skinny French fry because they don't absorb as much oil during cooking.
- According to one source (Seafish UK) a portion of fish and chips has less fat and fewer calories than an average pizza or a Big Mac or Whopper meal.
- Michael Jackson was a fan of fish and chips with mushy peas.
If you'd like to learn more about food history - something I find fascinating - there are some great books on the subject. I've also included one of my favorite celebrity chefs here - Jamie Oliver. Have you seen him on TV? If you're American, I'd love to know if you understand his accent! Luckily, that's not an issue in print!
- FISH AND CHIPS FOUR TIMES
For some reason, don't ask me why, you don't ask for 'two portions' in a chippy, you say 'fish and chips twice', 'fish and chips three times' or whatever number you require.
A value for money mix of mashed potato and flaked white fish which is breaded and deep fried. Just to be confusing, in some areas of England, a scallop (see below) is what you'll get if you order a fishcake. No, we don't do this to be deliberately confusing...
Simply Yorkshire dialect for peas.
Normally served in working men's clubs, this is a dish of a pork pie, mushy peas and mint sauce.
A scallop in a chippy isn't the seafood thingy. I didn't know there was such a thing until I was fully grown up. No, a scallop is a large slice of potato, battered and fried. In some areas, a scallop might contain two slices of potato with a thin layer of fish in the middle.
- SLOPPY PEAS
Properly known as 'mushy peas' these are marrowfat peas that have been cooked overnight.
Marco Pierre White
Marco is one of my favorite celebrity chefs a) because he's from Yorkshire and b) because he's nuts. (The two facts do tend to go together). In this video he is making fish and chips.
Although he uses beer in his batter, you'll note that he does not ponce around with slices of lemon or tartare sauce - just good old malt vinegar.
Oh, and he's from Yorkshire and he's a chef - this means that I need to issue a profanity alert for the last few seconds of this video.
© 2013 Jackie Jackson