Most Iconic Comfort Food
It’s hard to find a human, let alone a Brit who doesn’t enjoy the occasional plate of fish and chips. When done right, the English favorite is one of the world’s best expressions of comfort food, with its golden beer-battered crust and steaming flakes of whitefish, nicely complemented by a crispy batch of fried potatoes and, if you’re really going for it, a side of mushy green peas.
Strolling around London, it’s impossible to miss your opportunity to indulge. Chip shops are everywhere, and you’ll find the dish on every pub menu, served with the pre-requisite brown malt vinegar and pickled onions. Never ones to pass up a foodie adventure, we of course went for it, and were reminded of just how satisfying a plate of fish and chips can be.
Going into the cozy season, we realized this was one dish we needed to have up our sleeves for a fun night in with friends and family. Follow us as we satisfy our culinary curiosity. Our latest Girl’s Guide tells you the story of this English national treasure, plus our top three places to try it in London and our favorite recipe for making it at home, courtesy of none other than celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
You may be surprised to learn the quintessential English comfort food has its roots in Spain. Fried fish, or pescado frito, had long been popular along Spain’s southern coast when it was brought to England by a wave of 16th century Jewish immigrants. When Thomas Jefferson visited London a few centuries later, he wrote about enjoying fried fish made “in the Jewish fashion.” The tradition fused with local culture, birthing dozens of different styles for battering and frying.
When fish was scarce, London’s poor turned to an alternative: fried potatoes. Cut to the Industrial Revolution and the development of steam-trawling boats in the 1800s, and England’s working class had access to fish like never before. In London’s East End, a 13-year-old named Joseph Malin had the genius idea to combine the chips his family was frying at home to supplement their income with fried fish from a nearby shop. He sold the two together on a tray around his neck before opening his own takeaway shop in 1860.
By the 1870s the concept of fish and chips had caught on among London’s workers, and chip shops, or “chippies” were popping up all over the city. The affordable meal provided much needed protein and fiber to a diet that had formerly been mostly bread, drippings, tea and condensed milk, leading some to say it was the most important fuel in the Industrial Revolution (sorry coal). By 1910 there were around 25,000 chip shops in the UK, including the beloved ones along the coast that famously serve their fish wrapped in newspaper, with a two-pronged wooden fork.
Following the chip shop came the advent of a more elevated fish and chips experience, finally making restaurant-quality dining available to England’s lower classes. In fact, fish and chips was so essential to the peoples’ quality of life that fish was one of few foods never rationed during World War II. Perhaps even more iconic than the Beatles and the Queen, today the dish continues to be enjoyed, updated, refined and reinvented. From classic recipes to contemporary twists, in 2016 this centuries-old street-food remains entirely relevant.
FISH & CHEAT’S CHIPS
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins
⅓ cup (50g) plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups (210g) fresh breadcrumbs
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
4 skinless flounder fillets (order from your fishmonger), cut into 4cm-wide strips
Sunflower oil, to shallow-fry
Cress or micro herbs, to serve
1kg sebago potatoes, scrubbed (unpeeled), cut into 1cm-thick chips
3 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
25g unsalted butter
400g fresh peas (or frozen, thawed)
1 small bunch tarragon, leaves finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon, plus lemon wedges to serve
2. Place chips on a baking tray and toss with rosemary, oil and a pinch of salt. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the tray from the oven and add garlic, stirring to combine. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden.
3. Meanwhile, for mushy peas, melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add fresh peas and tarragon, and cook, covered, for 10 minutes (3 minutes for frozen) or until soft. Add lemon juice and season. Mash until mushy. Cover to keep warm.
5. Heat 2cm oil in a large, deep frypan over medium heat (a cube of bread will turn golden in 30 seconds when the oil is hot enough). In batches, add the fish and cook for 2-3 minutes each side until just cooked and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
6. Serve fish with the chips, mushy peas, extra lemon wedges and cress.