The Proper Fish and Chips
After spending the summer in London I have had my fair share of Fish and Chips — and believe me, not all fish and chips are made the same. As a lover of Madison Friday fish frys, I decided to try a variety to see just how different they were.
This proved to be quite eventful as it turns out I did not know what a proper fish and chips entailed. The proper fish and chips consists of battered fish (traditionally cod but sometimes haddock or plaice) deep-fried and accompanied by deep-fried “chips” that are much thicker than typical American fries — so far so good, sounds pretty similar.
However, unlike a typical American fish fry, English fish and chips are made with one side of the fish’s skin still on. This was quite surprising when I took my first bite and noticed I was eating the skin of a fish. Now — for most people this would not be an issue, but for someone like me who already doesn’t like most fish, it was a little odd. The fish are also traditionally served with mushy pureed peas that are surprisingly pretty delicious with the fish. While I decided to just eat around the skin, it is worth a try if you are a lover of fish frys!
Fish and Chips originated in Britain in the late 1850s as cheap and affordable meal for the working class. While no one is quite sure who was the first to try the delectable combo, both Scotland and London claim they are the true masterminds behind the dish.
A typical Fish and Chips meal is made using Arran Victory potatoes, or Marish Piper to add what the English call “the perfect balance of flavor”. The chips are then cooked twice and are cooled down in between each stage of frying to get rid of the excess moisture and prevent soggy, waxy chips.
For the batter, it is typical to use bubbly beer to add volume and crunch to the batter, but lager has become a more modern variation. It is suggested that the batter be chilled for at least an hour in the fridge before using.
And finally, the fish! To have a great texture you need to make sure you have a fresh fish with thick muscle mass.
Check out a traditional version of the recipe below to have your very own English experience.
Until next time, Cheers from London!
For the Fish and Batter
- 4 large fish fillets, 2-3 cm thick (either Cod, Plaice, Haddock or Turbut)
- 1 ½ cups of flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp honey
- 200 ml water
- 500 ml beer or lager
- 8 ½ cups – 12 cups of peanut oil
- table salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Chips
- 2 ½ pounds arran victory or marish piper potatoes
- Table salt and sea salt
The day before serving the fish and chips go to the method for making the chips and do the first frying of the twice-cooked process the night before, so the chips can dry out in the fridge overnight after their first frying. This will lift the chips to a new level of taste and texture, crisping them up, when fried for the second time, just before serving. However, you can of course shorten this to twice-cooking the chips on the same day, with a shorter resting time in the fridge.
For The Fish
Into a medium sized bowl sieve in the plain flour and baking powder and mix. In a small jug stir in the honey and water, then add this to the flour to create a batter mix by whisking it together. Open the lager or beer and stir it gently into the batter until just combined, try not to excite the beer too much – it doesn’t matter if the consistency is a little lumpy. Put this in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
In a large saucepan, deep fat fryer, or large casserole dish, put enough groundnut oil to cover the fish when it is added. Heat this to 220C (use a cook’s digital probe thermometer to test the temperature – they are quite cheap to buy and are very useful).
Rinse the turbot fillets (or other fish fillets) under running water and dry them with paper towels. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper, then dust with a little plain flour — this ensures the batter sticks to the fillets. Shake off any excess flour.
Take the batter out of the fridge, give it a vigorous whisk to get it foamy. Dip the fillet into the foamy batter, so that it is fully covered. When it is completely coated lower the fillet head first into the oil, holding it by the narrow tail end and dropping it slowly away from you to avoid splashes.
As the fish fries in the oil use a metal spoon and drizzle a little extra batter over it, this adds to the crusty exterior, making it even more crunchy. When it has turned a light-golden brown, which will take 1-2 minutes, turn the fillet over and drizzle more batter on that side too.
Let the fish cook for another minute or so, until it has coloured to a deeper golden brown, then remove it from the oil. Use the digital probe to check it is cooked: insert the probe into the thickest part of the fish — once it reads 45C the fillet should be set aside to drain and rest on a drying rack with paper towel on it. If it needs longer fry for another minute. The residual heat will cook the fish to a temperature of over 50C.
Repeat the above process with the remaining fillets.
For The Chips
The night before: Wash and peel the potatoes, then cut them into chips, about 1.5cm thick. As soon as the chips are cut put them into a bowl under cold running water for three minutes, to rinse off some of the starch, then drain.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the potato chips, which will bring the temperature down, bring back to the boil and then return to a gentle simmer until the surface of the chips have almost broken up. It is important to make sure the simmer is gentle, so that the potatoes don’t start to fall apart before they have cooked through. This will usually only take about ten-minutes or so.
Using a slotted spoon, carefully lift the potatoes out of the water and place on a cake rack (with some kitchen towel underneath) to drain and dry. Leave to cool, then put in the fridge until cold – twenty minutes or so.
When the chips are cold take them from the fridge and pour enough groundnut oil to cover the chips into a deep-fat fryer etc. and heat the oil to 130C. Add the chips to the hot fat and allow them to cook for a few minutes, until they are slightly coloured, do not over cook them at this stage.
Remove the chips and drain off the excess fat. Place them on a cake rack, with kitchen towel underneath, and allow to cool, then return to the fridge overnight.
On the day of the meal: After cooking the fish fillets in batter, turn the groundnut oil down to 190C. Take the once-cooked chips out of the fridge and add them to the hot oil and cook until golden brown. This will take 8-10 minutes.
Drain the chips, season well with a mixture of table and sea salt, then pile next to the fish fillets on a plate. Serve the fish and chips with separate dishes of mushy peas, pickled onions, tartar sauce, and condements of vinegar and extra salt for those who wish to add them.
For Home-made Mushy Peas
Ingredients: 475g frozen peas, 65g butter, 6 mint leaves, Salt and pepper, to taste.
Defrost the frozen peas in a jug filled with warm water — this should take a only few minutes. Strain, shaking off as much excess water as possible. Reserve some of the peas.
Place the remaining peas into a small saucepan, along with the butter and 50ml water. Cook over a medium heat until all the water has evaporated and the peas are cooked through. Place the cooked peas into a blender (or use a stick blender) and purée. While blending, adjust the taste by adding the mint leaves and the salt and pepper. Tip into a small dish to serve from and fold in the reserved peas.
Recipe courtesy of historicalfoods.com