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English Fish & Chips

Updated on February 25, 2016
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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'.

The secrets

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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.

THE FISH

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.

FLOUR

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.

THE BATTER

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.

THE CHIPS

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.

To serve

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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.

MUSHY PEAS

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.

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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.

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Scraps

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!

Trivia

  • 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.

Further reading

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!

Glossary

  • 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.
  • FISHCAKE
    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...
  • PAYS
    Simply Yorkshire dialect for peas.
  • PIE'N'PAYS
    Normally served in working men's clubs, this is a dish of a pork pie, mushy peas and mint sauce.
  • SCALLOP
    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

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    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      The X was from Morocco. They have a fish and chips tradition there it seems. There was a hole in the wall place in Agadir we went to for meals and it was always delish. I've never mastered fish fried as well as at that place.

    • paulahite profile image

      Paula Hite 3 years ago from Virginia

      Love fish and chips! Its been featured on our G+ page today! https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/10673155513900942970...

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @lewisgirl: I'm hungry now just thinking about them :)

    • lewisgirl profile image

      lewisgirl 3 years ago

      Great lens! I have fish and chips every time I go to England. Never tried the dandelion and burdock drink-next time.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @sousababy: Chip butties are probably the best food in the world :)

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 3 years ago

      I'm allergic to fish now, but as a kid we had fish on Fridays (mostly cod). A rare treat was when Dad bought fish and chips from The Fish Joy (in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada) which is still popular to this day. My man-servant has made a chip buttie - but alas, I shall not be able to (my cholesterol is high genetically). I'm feasting only with my eyes, but will pin this to my Yummy board.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @stephen777: Enjoy!

    • stephen777 profile image

      stephen777 4 years ago

      Wonderful. I can taste the fish n chips now. I am going to try this recipe. Thanks

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Beatlechan: I have a of of English friends who live in Japan now. How fascinating!

    • Beatlechan profile image

      Beatlechan 4 years ago

      I haven't tried authentic English fish and chips but I've tried some that were close to the real thing in Japan. (I had friends from England who were living in Japan). I had Guinness with it (in my younger days, anytime was a good time for beer). It was delicious. Thanks for the yummy lens!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Alex-Gopson LM: Fish and chips are pretty irresistible, aren't they?

    • Alex-Gopson LM profile image

      Alex-Gopson LM 4 years ago

      You have me so hungry for fish and chips now, that first picture did it all!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Northerntrials: That's lovely. One of the wonderful things about fish and chips is the memories that it evokes. How lovely that your mum used to make fish and chips - ours were always shop bought. What lovely memories you must have.

    • Northerntrials profile image

      Northerntrials 4 years ago

      Fish and chip night was Saturdays when I was a wee lad. Mom would fire up the deep fryer and load after load of fish and chips rolled out alternately. The dining table was covered in layers of newspaper and the fryer loads dumped in a pile in the center of the table. It was loads of fun and even the finiky kids had fun - cleaning up was not a chore so there were challenges to see who would be rewarded with the easy clean-up.Mom made her batter with 2 to 1 flour and cornstarch. It made for a crispier batter. I loved it.

    • altkleider profile image

      altkleider 4 years ago

      Finde ich gut schmeckt auch.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @ohcaroline: I'm wondering if you had curry too - the England's favorite dish :) Thanks for dropping by!

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      ohcaroline 4 years ago

      I had them in London while on a visit and enjoyed them immensely. One of my favorite meals while there...believe it or not.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @vinopete: Fish and chips are so tasty!

    • vinopete profile image

      vinopete 4 years ago

      Very enlightening! And I love fish and chips too.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Jogalog: My mum always had curry sauce on her chips! I can't remember her ever having chips without it.

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 4 years ago

      I like my chips with curry sauce! When I was at school we would sometimes walk into town at lunchtime and get chips and curry sauce or a chip butty. I'm actually not keen on the fish though.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Your work is very good and I appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. Thank you for sharing great information to us. I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topicwww.autobahnindustries.com/casingpipe.php

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      InfoCoop 4 years ago

      Looks wonderful! Never heard of mushy peas before. Thanks for getting me one lens closer to my anglophile trophy :)

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @AskLou1: Thanks for visiting! You know, I get hungry myself every time I see those fish and chips images.

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      AskLou1 4 years ago

      A really good food lens, always makes you hungry! Thanks for the education!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @JohnTannahill: That's a lovely way of putting it! Interestingly, fish and chips are more healthy than takeout burger meals. And tastier :)

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 4 years ago from Somewhere in England

      Luckily I've just eaten. Otherwise I would be so hungry after reading this. Fish and chips is the future!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @makorip lm: Haha - good point :)Thanks for visiting!

    • makorip lm profile image

      makorip lm 4 years ago

      I would have been really pleased to be in your debate/conversation on fish and chips. I assume while your having this conversation your also having fish and chips. Great lens!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @queenofduvetcover: Thank you!

    • queenofduvetcover profile image

      queenofduvetcover 4 years ago

      Fish and chips, sounds delish! Very nice lens. =D

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I really liked this article on food and cooking ..its great information..contents are understandable and worth to be noticedit is going to help people find their next insight into taste twisterswww.autobahnindustries.com

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Bonfire Designs: Haha - now I'm imagining the sight of you licking your monitor :)Thanks so much for visiting. Sleep well - and tastily :)

    • Bonfire Designs profile image

      Bonfire Designs 4 years ago

      Oh My I have just licked my computer screen and know for sure I will be dreaming of your photos of fish and chips tonight! Yummy Yummy lens thank you for sharing

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @jennysue19: Yep, 1971 is a long time ago! Funnily enough though, I used to live in more or less the same area - near Woodhouse Moor. They used to have a great fair there every now and again but if you were only in the area for 6 months, it might not have taken place when you were there. I haven't been there for many years. I also lived near to your neck of the woods - well nearly, the Southampton area. Small world!

    • jennysue19 profile image

      jennysue19 4 years ago

      @BritFlorida: Britflorida it is a LONG time ago! I'm 61 and I was in Leeds in 1971! No idea what my local chippie was called or other local ones. I shared a house on the far side of Woodhouse Moor from the Uni. My best friend was doing an English degree and she managed to get me a job in the History department for a few months when they were processing the next year's applications. I was talking to someone a day or two ago who has just completed a degree at Leeds and talking about all the changes. She has promised to send me some current pics of places I used to know. Some of them have disappeared apparently like the covered market hall in the city centre. I didn't realise that saveloys were such a south of England thing. I'm sure you could get them other places I lived like Warrington for example.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @jennysue19: What a coincidence - I was just reading your fish and chips lens! When you were in Leeds did you ever go to Bryan's at Headingley? That's regarded as one of the best. When I went to live in the south, I discovered items in chippies that I'd never heard of before - like saveloys!

    • jennysue19 profile image

      jennysue19 4 years ago

      Love your Yorkshire take on fish and chips. I lived in Leeds for about 6 months but I don't remember scallops. The guy that ran my local chippy there was Hawaiian and also sold 'Chinese' takeaway but it was different to the other Chinese available in the area. My favourite from there was a jumbo pancake roll with chips and sweet and sour sauce. Another heart-attack on a plate LOL.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @anonymous: Thanks for visiting! I know what you mean - I made myself really hungry writing this :)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Looks amazing! Thanks!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @getmoreinfo: Oh they are. Especially if you eat them in a seaside town where the fish is really fresh!

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      getmoreinfo 4 years ago

      Wow these English Fish & Chips looks really good.