Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Fish and Chips are Not as British as You Think.

July 4, 1776, Independence Day, when the colonists of the New World (America) declared all ties cut from their mother country, Britain.  While the residents of this newly established country might have thought, “Well that’s all done with, time for tea and biscuits”, King George had a whole other thought.  Time for an American history refresher.

Tensions between America and Britain began on March 22, 1765, when British Parliament   passed the Stamp Act or Duties in American Colonies Act.  Colonists had to pay taxes on every page of printed paper they used which also included fees on playing cards, dice, and newspapers.  Britain continued to come up with other types of taxation, but the tax that put the colonists’ knickers in a tight twist was the one on tea.  Tea?  The all-day, every day beverage of every British citizen, young and old!  This tax was just another way to “help” Britain get out of some type of debt, and the colonists were seen as having more money than they needed.  This time, the tea tax was meant to be a bailout policy to get the British East India Company out of debt.  In retaliation, December 16, 1773, Boston Tea Party where 340 chests, of British East India Company Tea, weighing over 92,000 pounds, was dumped into the harbor.

Then Parliament tells the colonists, “Remember the French and Indian War in 1763, and how we defended and saved all your ass-ets?”, now we are upping taxes, so you can pay that off as well.

Tensions grew sky high until, finally, on April 19, 1775, local militiamen fought with British soldiers in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, in Massachusetts.  That famous line, “The shot heard round the world.” signified this engagement as the start of the Revolutionary War.

Ah, so remember when I wrote about Baked Beans (May 7, 2024 issue of the San Juan Record), and that the recipe did not come from Britain?  I am about to blow another recipe bubble up, and this time about a well-known traditional meal, Fish and Chips.  Whether you have been to the UK, watched any number of British based movies or television series, even read any novels, fish and chips is a staple of the British diet.  Cod and haddock have always been the main two species of fish to be used for this dish, but nowadays any firm white fish (cod, pollock, haddock, catfish, perch, or mahi-mahi) is acceptable. Main condiment used is malt vinegar, and an ample seasoning with salt.  The “chips” are not the crispy type that come in a bag for snacking.  No, they are potatoes that are cut either into round or short rectangular shapes, then deep fried to a golden crispness on the outside, but fluffy on the inside.  Oh, what do they call the snack bag type of potatoes?  Crisps…for an obvious reason.


Fish Used: Catfish, and Great for Making Fish Tacos As Well.

So, the true origin of fish and chips goes back, well, for England about the 15th century, but for Portugal, between the 8th and 12th centuries.  Basically, 20 percent of the population of Portugal, known then as Al-Andalus, was Jewish.  Since the Sabbath was on Saturday, and they were not allowed to cook, food was prepared on Friday afternoon that needed to last the next 24 hours. One very popular recipe consisted of white fish (cod or haddock) fried in a thin coating of flour or matzo meal. The batter preserved the fish so it could be eaten cold and still be quite flavorful.  Side note, with the recipe I will be giving, yes, the fish can be eaten cold, the batter is still crispy, not greasy, and the flavor is just as delicious as when it was served hot.

Jump to the 15th century, the Jewish population was driven out by the Spanish Inquisition

("Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" – Monty Python), driven into England and a cookbook from 1781 gives credit to “the Jews way of preserving and cooking fish”.  Fish and chips became such a popular dish in England, that it is even mentioned in Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist, as “fried fish warehouses”.  Traditionally, the “serving container” was grease proof wax paper, then wrapped in newspaper as insulation.  Nowadays, wax paper plus unprinted paper is still used, but so are the typical “take-out”, or as they are called there, “take-away”, disposable containers of thick paper or styrofoam.

When I make the batter for the fish, I prefer to use ale; pale ale has a fruity flavor, offsets the use of malt vinegar and salt nicely, and combines with the white wine well.  Do not flinch at the use of alcohol, as it burns off during the frying process.  The whole idea is to go for flavor, not make your fish so drunk it is singing a naughty British pub tune.  However, what you do in the privacy of your own home is no one else’s business (“Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean, aye?” – Monty Python)





By the way, having left over batter, I cut up a couple of chicken breasts and did the same cooking process for them.  Oh my!  The most delicious fried chicken pieces we have ever had; going back to my old ways of doing it will be difficult indeed.  So, carry on, pip-pip and all that rot.




English Style Fish and Chips



2 cups flour, divided in half (1 cup for batter, 1 cup for dredging)

2 eggs

¾ cup beer or ale

¾ cup milk

¾ cup white wine

½ tsp. cream of tartar

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. each salt and pepper

peanut oil

6 large potatoes (red skinned or golden yellow), cut roughly into 1” pieces

2 lbs. cod, or any other white meat fish (pollock, flounder), cut into 4” pieces


In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, eggs, beer, milk, wine, cream of tartar, baking powder, salt and pepper. Mix well, cover and chill for 1 hour.





Fill deep fryer to maximum line, or large skillet ½ way up, with canola oil; heat to 375-400F. Cook potatoes until just lightly browned; drain on paper towels; season with salt; transfer to cookie sheet. When done frying, place potatoes in oven (set at 200F) to keep warm.





Remix batter; dredge fish pieces into remaining 1 cup of flour; dip into batter and place in hot oil (3-4 pieces at a time). When batter turns golden brown and begins to puff, drain on paper towels.

Cod Portions

Dredge in Flour


Dredged in Flour, Ready for Batter


Coat in Batter

Cod Coated in Batter


Sizzling in Oil
Flip Portions Over to Complete Frying








Serve fish and chips with tartar sauce, malt vinegar or any other desired condiment.

Makes 4 servings.

Mary Cokenour



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