For all I knew when I was a kid, if the box of frozen fish sticks said English Style Fish & Chips, it was the real deal.
Not that it really mattered to me then; I just liked fish. And if the box had a picture of ANYTHING resembling French fries, so much the better.
Those were desperate times. There were times, I must admit, when I even settled for Tater Tots.
That was all fine and good until I got serious about cooking and got an education–first, culinary, and then from my customers.
Once you don that chef’s hat, you learn that for your reputation to be credible, your food has to be incredible.
And, depending on the dish, part of being incredible is being authentic.
It’s sort of truth-in-menu ethical code, which is not unlike having one little chef conscience on each shoulder–one devilishly looking for the easy way, the other guarding genuineness and authenticity regardless of cost and effort.
I say this all because authentic English Fish & Chips ARE not only a classic dish but also practically synonymous with England. To the English, they’re as iconic as Big Ben and just as sacred as Westminster Abbey, which means that authentic Fish & Chips are battered NOT breaded. They’re not baked; they’re not frozen; and they’re definitely not cut into sticks or nuggets.
What they ARE is medium-to-large fillets of fresh fish (cod and haddock most commonly), which are floured, dipped in a beer batter (usually Ale), and fried until crisp and golden brown.
And as for the chips, they’re fresh russet potatoes, generally cut into fat French fries, and then double fried.
The good news here? The recipes are easy and relatively inexpensive! So why WOULDN’T you want them to be authentic?
Having said all this, I must admit the English do occasionally stray from the course, which I suppose can be forgiven since Americans have adopted countless ways of making our beloved hamburgers.
Still, there are traditions, and I try my best to uphold them, especially when it comes to a dish I dearly love.
So here are MY recipes and methods for making Fish & Chips:
If you’d like to see a video of my visit to Seafresh, one of London’s BEST Fish & Chip shops, and you want to watch me make the recipe:
Since both of my recipes are beyond simple, you’ll be tempted to add additional ingredients to make it better. Don’t. They won’t improve the recipes; adding ingredients will only make them different.
So what fish do I use?
For the fish, of the two most commonly used–cod and haddock, I prefer cod. Specifically, use fresh fillets, cut about 3 inches wide, 4 to 5 inches long and from ½- to 1-inch thick.
The batter is easy. Just place 1 cup of all-purpose flour in a medium-sized mixing bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper. Then whisk in an equal quantity of beer (1 cup).
Continually whisk while adding the beer until the batter is smooth and has the consistency of a thin pancake batter.
Note 1: For those of you who are on a gluten-free diet, you’re in luck! Rice flour and gluten-free beer will actually work! P.S. Regular Budweiser or Bud Light are NOT considered gluten-free.There are others, however.
Note 2: To egg or not to egg. Some batter recipes call for an egg. It’s not necessary. Granted, it can help the batter stick to the fish, but it also makes the final crust more doughy and less crisp.
What beer do I use?
I prefer an ale, but a pilsner will also work well. Personally, I find stout too bitter and overpowering for the delicate flavor of the fish.
Whichever beer you choose, I recommend that you allow the finished batter to rest about 1 hour before using it. This will reduce some of the batter’s fizz, which in turn, will allow the batter to better stick to the floured fish instead of blowing off the fillet as you add it to the hot oil. When the batter doesn’t stick properly, it leaves behind a porous, web-like crust instead of a solid, crisp one.
Cook the fish by heating a minimum of 1 quart of canola oil (vegetable oil works too), in a medium-sized saucepan to 350 F. To prevent the oil from bubbling over the edge once you add the battered fish, avoid filling the pan too much more than half full with oil.
Next, prepare another shallow bowl of seasoned, all-purpose flour (about 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt and a quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper). Then, roll the fish fillets in it to coat them well. This initial flouring will help the batter to stick to the fish.
Once a fillet is floured, stab a corner with a fork or tong, and dip it into the beer batter. Allow any excess batter to run off, and then gently immerse it in the hot oil.
Fry the fish fillets about 6 to 8 minutes total, turning them over once.
When they are done and medium brown, carefully remove the fish onto absorbent paper towels for a moment, and then transfer them to your service plates.
Traditionally, fish and chips are served with fresh lemon, malt vinegar, tartar sauce and something called mushy peas, which are mashed English peas. (Don’t ask me why.)
And the chips?
The chips are even easier if you follow these tips:
Peel 1 medium-sized russet (Idaho) potato per serving and cut it into fat French fries–about 3/8 inch x 1/2 inch x 3 inches or so.
Rinse, then soak the cut chips in cold water for at least 30 minutes. Then drain and pat them between multiple paper towels until they are VERY, VERY dry.
To make them golden and crispy, first blanch-fry them in 300 F oil for about 8 minutes. This will cook them without browning them.
After 8 minutes, remove the blanched chips from the oil onto absorbent paper towels while you raise the temperature of the oil to 350 F.
Return the chips to the hot oil and finish frying them (about 5 more minutes) until they’re golden brown and crisp.
Remove them from the oil, shake off the excess oil, salt and serve.