What is fish and chips?
Fish and chips is undoubtedly the most representative and popular dish of British cuisine. This fast food staple is colloquially known as fish supper in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Fish and chips has also grown in popularity in parts of North America (mostly New England, the Pacific Northwest and mainland Canada), as well as in South Africa. Establishments in Denmark, and coastal towns in Norway, also serve it. In the Netherlands and Belgium, the fillet of fried fish called lekkerbek is served with French fries.
In the UK, a restaurant that served fish and chips is called a fish-and-chips shop or a chippy.
How to prepare the fish in a fish and chips
Three types of fish are the undisputed stars of a fish and chips recipe:
The fillet of fish is dipped in a batter of egg, flour, ale, sparkling water, baking soda, and salt, and is fried in vegetable oil. Finally the dish is sprinkled with salt as well as malt vinegar and can be served with ketchup, mayonnaise, Worcester sauce, aioli (creme d’ail) and/or tartar sauce and lemon.
This preparation is the most traditional, but variants exist. For example, bread crumbs can sometimes replace the beer batter for fish and chips.
How to prepare the chips (French fries) in a fish and chips
Everybody knows how to make French fries but how do you make them crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside?
Here are some tips to make crisp French fries:
– First of all, with regard to the choice of the potato, it is necessary to use mealy potatoes, that will bring the necessary crispness when fried. Traditionally, the potato used to make French fries is Bintje, a yellow potato that is also used for mashed potatoes. In general, avoid buying white potatoes, and use yellow potatoes, which contain less water and less starch, and are much more compact. When fried, these potatoes will release less liquid and will stay firmer.
– Starch does not help with making French fries, so it must be eliminated or reduced as much as possible before frying. To do this, once peeled, soak the potatoes for at least 2 hours in a large amount of cold water.
– The drying of the potatoes before the frying is a very important step too. Once the soaking is finished, it is necessary to thoroughly dry the potatoes with a thick cloth, because the water which remains at the surface could make the frying a bit explosive.
– For frying, opt for a non-stick pan. And if you have the chance to own a deep fryer, it is even better, especially because it includes a thermometer, which allows to adjust the temperature of the oil more precisely.
– The oil must be carefully selected. There are many cooking oils or blends of cooking oils that have a high smoke point (ie they start to burn and only produce harmful substances at very high temperatures, which allows safer frying). Peanut oil is excellent for frying, but as always, the best is extra virgin olive oil, which, contrary to what many people think is great for frying, because it also has a very high smoke point, and gives fried foods a completely different flavor. The oil must be at the right temperature and the right temperature for frying is more or less around 350 F.
– Do not skimp with oil. In order to become beautiful and crisp, French fries must be completely immersed in the oil. Therefore, you must fill the pan so that the fries can fry evenly, without the risk of being burned on one side and raw on another.
– Except in an electric fryer, you should never use a lid because a lot of water vapor will be released, and instead of crispy fries, you will get soggy potato sticks.
– French fries must always be salted at the end. It is a mistake that many people commit when they season the French fries before frying, because the salt pushes all the water to the surface, which makes them soft and very unfit to be fried properly. They must be salted at the end of frying, once well drained or dried by laying them on paper towels.
– And finally the most important step, the secret of good crispy French fries with a soft inside: the double frying. To obtain perfect French fries, it is therefore necessary to pre-fry them for about 8 to 10 minutes, depending on their size. They are cooked at about 300 F, and let to rest for at least 10 minutes. They are then fried again at 350 F for 3 to 5 minutes, also according to the size of the fries.
What is the origin of fish and chips?
The fish and chips recipe dates back to the seventeenth century, when Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain imported fish. However, its original version was called pescado frito (fried fish) in Spanish.
Initially, fried fish was sold by street vendors. In 1839, Charles Dickens himself told in his famous book “Oliver Twist” about the existence of a warehouse where the fried fish was sold with bread and potatoes.
History tells us that the first official fish and chips store dates back to 1860 and was opened in London by Joseph Malin, a Spanish Jewish immigrant. The dish can therefore be defined as the first true English to takeout food.
For a real fish restaurant, it was not until 1896 that Samuel Isaac opened “Isaacs” where he served a menu of 9 pence based on fish, fried potatoes, bread, butter and tea.
The fish and chips recipe immediately became a popular meal among the English working class who enjoyed it as a takeout food. The first fish and chips shops were very simple, the fish was fried on a large cauldron and served in sheets of newspaper.
From England and Scotland, the dish began to spread. At the end of the 19th century, it arrived in Ireland, especially in the port of Cobh, south of the island. It also reached Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and the United States.
Like red telephone booths and the English imperial bus, fish and chips is the undisputed emblem of fast food in the UK and this inseparable couple now seduces even starred chefs!
In addition to the name of “chippy” used for the establishments that sell fish and chips, you will find some interesting names such as “The Codmothers”, “A fish called Rhondaa” in reference to the movie “A fish named Wanda”, “Scooby snax”, in reference to the favorite treats of Scooby Doo, the cartoon dog.
London’s oldest chippy is in Covent Garden, located in the West End. It is called Rock and Sole Plice. The establishment dates from 1871, and is the oldest still active.
Britain sells over 250 million fish and chips a year. It is the best-selling fast food in the country.
Anecdotically, during the landing in Normandy, British soldiers shouted “fish” and their comrades had to answer “chips” to make sure they were British and not German.
What is the history of French fries?
The Belgians have the strong conviction that French fries have been part of their culinary culture for centuries and that it was their ancestors who invented them. The Belgians themselves have asked UNESCO to recognize French fries as the official icon of the nation.
The story begins around 1600, in the town of Namur, in southern Belgium, where people fried fish caught in the Meuse. Once the winter arrived and the river froze, to compensate for the lack of fish and food, the inhabitants began to fry potatoes in the same way that they fried the fish. Fries were born!
For the Belgians, it was also necessary at the time to master the most interesting part of the fries. The method of the double frying in beef fat gave the fries a pleasant crunch, as well as a sweet and tasty inside.
The Belgians, in order to remove all doubt about the place of birth of French fries, opened the first museum devoted to this food. This is the Frietmuseum, located in Bruges, an exhibition and tasting area that recreates the gastronomic history of fries by offering many suggestions for the preparation of this dish.
On the other hand, more than a century later, France became involved, with its own story about the invention of French fries and the same conviction on its paternity. According to rumors and popular stories, fries were first spotted at the end of the French Revolution of 1789 on the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. They appeared on the stalls of street vendors, with potato balls and chestnuts.
French fries also have their history on the other side of the Atlantic. In America, sliced potato fries, cut very thinly, are commonly called chips (or crisps in the United Kingdom).
On August 24, 1853, Cornelius Vanderbildt, a rail and sea transport tycoon, known as Commodore, entered Moon’s Lake House, the new restaurant in Saratoga Springs, a city in New York State.
After a long day of work, the Commodore sat down, took the menu in his hands and chose to eat his meal accompanied by a nice side of French potatoes, then known as French fries. Vanderbildt, who was not an easy customer, sent his portion of French fries back to the kitchen several times because, according to him, they were too thick and soaked with oil.
In response, cook George Crum, who was not known for his peaceful nature, decided to take revenge. He took the remaining potatoes, sliced them very thinly, as thin as a sheet of paper, and threw them into the boiling oil until they were almost burned.
But Crum’s revenge did not have the desired effect. Not only did the Commodore appreciate the dish he had just received, but he also praised it by convincing the other customers around him to order a portion. This is how the Saratoga chips were born, and they are still on the menu of the historic Moon’s Lake House until today.
Get yourself in the English mood and prepare this tasty beer-battered fish with these deliciously crispy and soft French fries.
- 4 cod fillets (or haddock, hake, or pollock)
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ⅓ cup dark beer
- ⅓ cup sparkling water
- Black pepper , freshly ground
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 2 lb potatoes (yellow flesh), peeled
- 4 cups vegetable oil (or beef fat)
- In a large bowl, mix all the flour, except two tablespoons, with cornstarch and baking soda. Season with salt and black pepper.
- Add the beer and sparkling water to the mixture and whisk to obtain a thick, smooth batter.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place the dough in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Cut the potatoes to form French fries about ½ inch thick.
- Place the French fries in a strainer and rinse with cold water.
- Soak them in a large bowl with cold water for 2 hours.
- Drain the potatoes carefully with a cloth.
- Wrap the potatoes in another cloth and put them in the refrigerator.
- Meanwhile, place each fish fillet on a paper towel and pat dry.
- Season the fish fillets very lightly with a little salt.
In a deep fryer or a large pan, heat a large amount of oil (or beef fat) at 260 F / 125 C.
Fry the French fries (a few handfuls at a time) in the fat for a few minutes. Do not brown them. Once the French fries are lightly cooked, remove them from the fat and drain them. Set aside.
- Keep the fat for the second fry.
- Pour the reserved 2 tablespoons of flour in a hollow dish. Roll each fish fillet in the flour and shake to remove any excess.
- Heat a large amount of vegetable oil in a frying pan.
Dip each fish fillet in the batter. Then carefully place each fillet in the hot oil. Fry for about 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp and golden brown, turning fillets occasionally.
- Using a large perforated spoon, remove the fish fillets from the hot oil, drain them on paper towels, cover them with parchment paper to keep them warm.
Heat the reserved oil to 350 F / 175 C then fry the French fries again until they are golden and crisp, about 5 minutes.
- Serve immediately with the hot fish accompanied by one or more of the following condiments: malt vinegar, ketchup, mayonnaise, Worcester sauce, aioli, and/or tartar sauce and lemon.