No one knows precisely where or when fish and chips came together. Chips (pommes frites) had arrived in Britain from France in the eighteenth century. The first mention in 1854 was when a leading chef included ‘thin cut potatoes cooked in oil’ in his recipe book, Shilling Cookery. Around this time fish warehouses sold fried fish and bread, with mention of them in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist published in 1830.
There are claims to the first ‘chippie’ (fish and chip shop) from Lancashire in the North and London in the South of England. Whoever it may have been, the trade grew to feed a rapidly expanding population, reaching a staggering 35,000 shops in the 1930’s, leveling to around 11,000 now. The Federation of Fish Friers in the UK claim that in 1995 the British consumed 300 million servings of fish and chips equating to six servings for every man woman and child in the country. The record for the largest number of portions sold in one day by an independent fish and chip shop is over 4,000.
Fish and chips helped feed the masses during the First World War and were one of only a few foods not rationed in the Second.Which Fish?
The UK’s favorite fish is still Cod and accounts for 61.5% of total consumption. Although the North Sea cod stocks issue is a serious problem, Cod landed in the UK is caught within strict management regimes and quota systems setting safe limits for catches agreed by fishermen, scientists and government. Cod caught within these agreed limits is safe for consumers to eat.
Haddock at 25% is the second favorite and regional variations include whiting in Northern Ireland and some parts of Scotland, skate and huss in the south of England.
A floury potato is best, waxy potatoes can often result in greasy chips. The best varieties are King Edward , Maris Piper and Sante. 1 out of every 4 British potatoes become chips - that's around 1.25 million tonnes every year.
The perfect and traditional fat for frying both the fish and the chips is beef dripping or lard. Both give a crisper and tastier chip and fish batter. Cooking fish and chips in vegetable or corn oil is now commonplace – good for vegetarians. The oil must be clean and a constant temperature of 185°C maintained.
Thick or Thin?
Thick chips absorb less oil than thin ones, so chunkier chips are healthier.
Very few Britons have adopted the continental habit of mayonnaise with fish and chips, preferring just salt and vinegar sprinkled on.
On the Side?
Love them or hate them, Mushy Peas are the classic accompaniment. Since the mid-seventies a curry sauce has also gained favor as a side dish. The only other sauces considered suitable are a splash of ketchup or in Scotland, some like brown sauce.
Eat In or Out?
Despite the threat from pizzas and burgers, fish and chips remain the nation’s favorite take away dish, nearly four times more popular than Indian curries. Fish and chips were traditionally wrapped in greaseproof paper and a thick layer of newspaper. This served not only as an insulator but as a plate to make eating outdoors easier - health and safety controls no longer allow the use of newspaper. Many fish and chip purists declare fish and chips eaten from newspaper outdoors, is the only and best way to eat them.
Are they healthy?
Compared to other take-away foods Fish and chips have: 9.42 grams of fat per 100 grams. The average pizza has 11, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 12.1, Whopper meal with medium fries has 14.5, chicken korma 15.5 and doner kebab 16.2.
Fish and chips have 595 calories in the average portion - an average pizza has 871, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 888, Whopper meal with medium fries has 892, chicken korma 910 and doner kebab 924.
Statistics courtesy of Seafish UK.
Where can I buy them?
With 11,000 fish and chips shops throughout the UK and Ireland, finding a chippie is usually easy.
Fish and chip shops are now also found around the world and especially popular in coastal regions of Spain. Currently there are even four in New York following the first one there called “A Salt and Battery”.