Continuing with my salute to British cuisine in honor of the 2012 London Olympics, we turn today to another popular national dish, fish and chips.
Fish and chips are the world’s original fast food.
The dish first became popular during the mid-19th Century in the United Kingdom, when technological advancements in the fishing industry enabled fisherman in the North Sea to first use trawling as a method of catching fish.
This instantly provided a large supply of inexpensive fish — mostly cod and haddock — that were used to feed working classes of London and other industrial cities. The first fish and chip shops were crude affairs, providing little more than a cauldron filled with lard over a wood fire.
But in 1896, London restauranteur Samuel Isaacs came up with the idea of providing an elegant, yet affordable, fish and chips restaurant that even the working classes could afford. The restaurants were carpeted, had tablecloths, china, flowers and cutlery and guests were served by waiters.
The concept was an instant success and the first fast food restaurant chain was born. Several Sam Isaac’s London restaurants soon expanded to include units in every major English city and resort area. At its peak, the chain had 30 locations.
Although Sam Isaac’s is no longer around, there are still many fish and chip shops, known locally as a “chippy” or “chipper”, throughout the UK.
In the US, Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips — a restaurant chain named for the English character actor and former Merv Griffin sidekick — continues to operate 45 restaurants in the US. Another popular chain, Long John Silver’s — named for a character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island” — has more than 1,200 units worldwide.
In the UK, “chips” are slices of potato deep fried in oil, sort of like the US version of potato chips except thicker and cooked fresh. British fish and chips usually are served with salt and vinegar, especialy malt vinegar. In the US, fish and chips are served with a tartar sauce, mayo or the ubiquitous ketchup.
Traditionally, fish and chips are served in white wax spaper surrounded by newspaper, but this method has been banned in England due to fears about ink poisoning. Modern newspaper printing methods, however, make that all but impossible. I think it gives it an authentic look, so I usually use newspaper for my fish and chip presentations. I served mine with oven baked sweet potato fries and tartar sauce and lemon wedges on the side.
Fish and Chips
1 lb Fish, just about any type of flaky, white fish will do, I used tilapia
2 Eggs, beaten
1 cup Bread Crumbs
1 tsp Red Pepper Flake
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
3 TBS Canola Oil (you may need to add a little more for subsequent batches as the fish absorbs some of the oil)
For the Tartar Sauce
1/2 cup Reduced Fat Mayonnaise
1/2 cup Fat Free Sour Cream
2 TBS Capers
1 TBS Pickle Relish
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
2 Green Onions, sliced thin
Lemon Wedges, served on the side
Fresh Parsley, for garnish
1. Mix all the ingredients for the tartar sauce together in a mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes to the flavors can meld together.
2. Preheat oven to 350F. Put cast iron grill over a medium heat. When hot, add the oil. Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs and red pepper flake in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Cut the fish into easy-to-handle segments, roughly 4″x2″ each. One at a time, submerge in the egg then dredge in the seasoned bread crumbs.
3. In batches, place the fish in the hot oil, being careful not to splash yourself, and fry on each side until golden brown. Leave room between each fish peice so they cook thoroughly, don’t crowd the pan. When nicely browned, transfer fish peices to a sheet pan and hold in the oven until all the fish is cooked. The fish will continue to cook in the oven as you complete frying all the fish.
If you prefer, you also can serve this with fried potatoes, which of course is more traditional.