You want to hear a fun fact? Of course you do…
I come from Manchester in the North West of England, as I’ve said before. More specifically though, I was born in Oldham, a small, parochial town that’s kind of a sub-district of the county, Greater Manchester. Why is that relevant for a fish and chip recipe? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The first recorded fried fish shop was mentioned by Charles Dickens in 1838 when he referred to “fried fish warehouse” in Oliver Twist. It is widely accepted that fried fish as a meal came from Spanish Jews in the 17th century who introduced Pescado frito, fish coated in flour and fried.
And Oldham? The first recorded fish and chip shop, that would quickly enter the English lexicon as a “chippy” was established in Mossley, Oldham in 1863 by a man named Mr Lees who sold fish and chips from a wooden hut in the market. He later moved the business to a permanent shop across the road which had the following inscription in the window, “This is the first fish and chip shop in the world”.
It’s estimated that there were over 35,000 chippies in Britain in the 1930s but that number has reduced today to around 8,000. Formerly the king of the takeaways, fried fish has been overtaken by pizzas, kebabs, Chinese and curries but still has a huge loyal following.
As a child in Manchester in the 1980s, the chippy was a wondrous place. Strictly as a treat, a diversion from the daily fish fingers, chips and beans, beefburgers, mash and gravy and other working-class staples. Usually on a Friday, being payday, my mother would ask what I wanted from the chippy. A great moment!
Fish and chips, Meat and potato pie, battered sausage, chips, mushy peas (Manchester caviar) and gravy, or curry, chips and rice! The possible combinations seemed endless… Oh, a chip muffin! Chips in a sandwich, that’s right! What?!
Anyway, here is a real, proper beer battered fish and chip recipe that requires deep frying and absolutely has to be served with copious amounts of malt vinegar and salt with a tartar sauce.
Let’s start with beer. The lighter beers are best for this type of batter and to keep the flavor more in the English style – I love Yuengling, drinking it and cooking with it – goes great in my chili con carne! You only need to use about half a cup so feel free to drink the rest whilst cooking 🙂
The traditional fish used in British fish and chips is cod, but haddock and plaice are often used as substitutes. Even tilapia can be used if you must (Although I’m not a fan). Another quick, fun fact: the European Union ruled in 2003 that British fish and chip shops can’t sell fish and chips by that name – the fish must be specified – so cod and chips, haddock and chips, etc… Bureaucracy in action.
The chips (fries, whatever…) are peeled russets and cut into approx. 1″ strips. The closer in size to each other they are, the more evenly they all fry together. This method of double frying, if done correctly, gives our chips the classic English crisp but soggy texture – lightly browned and crisp exterior and a fluffy (soggy) interior that’s a perfect English chippy copy.
The chips are fried for 8 minutes at 350F and then removed from the oil and drained in preparation for the second crispy fry. At this stage the inside is fluffy and 90% cooked but if served this way the whole chip is soggy and will fail the essential crispy bite test.
See the difference after the oil temperature is raised to 400F and the final 3 minute fry takes place. Sooo good now – just needs the salt and vinegar now, and the fish!
Just look at that beauty! You just lightly coat the fish with the flour, dip it in the batter and let the excess drip off, and then gently place it in the hot oil. Fry for 3 minutes and then place in the oven at about 200F to keep warm whilst you cook the rest of the pieces.
The chips are fluffy with a crispy shell, the fully cooked yet moist fish has a puffed up, delicious beer batter and there is salt and vinegar on hand. The only thing missing is a super easy tartar sauce to dip the fish into. What can we do about that?
Four simple ingredients: mayo, mustard (I used Dijon but English mustard is also excellent), sweet pickle relish and lemon juice.
Simply mix them all together and you have the perfect accompaniment to English fish and chips! Serve immediately while the fish and chips are hot and fresh and enjoy.
We had some extra batter so whipped up a few onion rings to go with this. Onion rings go with everything, right? Just slice the onion, press out the rings, dip in flour, coat in batter and cook in the oil for a minute or two, flipping a couple of times. Job done.
Try out this recipe and let me know how it goes. Pics are always welcome.