Everything you need to know about the Great British national dish, Fish and Chips

The  Staff Canteen

Say what you will about the evolution of british gastronomy, fish and chips are and will likely remain the UK's most iconic dish. 

Fish and chips are among the most popular dish in Britain, too, accounting for a £1.2 billion chunk of the economy in 2020.

The fact that it dates back so far is only part of the reason it means so much to the British people; it also does because it continues to sustain fish and chip shops, pubs, restaurants, wholesalers and retailers selling fish and chips, as well as the farmers and fisherman keeping the supply chain alive. 

When were chips invented? 

It is thought that potatoes made their way to Europe from Peru in the 1500s, and the first accounts of them being boiled and cooked in butter by Britons date back to 1660.

Chips as we know them, however, may have taken longer to come about. Some time in the 1680s, the Belgians are said to have cut potatoes in the shape of fish to eat because the Meuse River had frozen over.

In the 1780s, French market vendors sold them at Paris' Ponte Neuf bridge, to the delight of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson.

Rumour has it that American soldiers assumed they had been in France when they ate them - as opposed to Belgium - and mistakenly gave them the 'French Fries' moniker we know today.

Who can beat Three Michelin star chef and owner of the Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal's triple-cooked chips?

Game chips - the perfect accompaniement for grouse and great homemade crisps

Who invented Fish and Chips?

There is contention as to who invented the combination of battered fish and chips, as both Lancashire and London claim it was in their city that the dish was born.

Chips were a common, cheap food in the North of England during the industrial revolution, while “Fried Fish, Jewish Fashion” was an import from the Portuguese Sephardic Jews who fled the Inquisition in the 16th century to seek refuge in Britain.

The first literary reference to the dish came in 1839, when novellist Charles Dickens mentioned a “fried fish warehouse” in ‘Oliver Twist’,

Then, in the 1860s, a young Ashkenazi immigrant named Joseph Malin opened Fish and Chip Shop in London, and, in 1863, Mr John Lees opened a fish and chip shop near Oldham in Lancashire, with an inscription in the window that read, 'This is the first fish and chip shop in the world!'

From the late 19th century into the 20th, the fish and chip trade expanded greatly to satisfy the needs of the growing industrial population of Great Britain; the development of the steam trawler brought fish from all over the North Atlantic, Iceland and Greenland to the UK and steam railways facilitated the distribution of the fish around the country.

During both world wars, fish and chips were among the few foods not to be rationed, deliberately so because of their availability but also for social cohesion and to boost National morale. 

To this day, fish and chips remains one of the nation's favourite meals. According to the Federation of Fish Friers, in 2020, there were approximately 10,500 specialist fish and chip shops in the UK, almost ten times as many as there are McDonald's outlets, and British consumers ate around 167 million portions of fish & chips, the traditional favourite, amounting to a spend of approximately £1.2 billion.

how to make fish and chips: Classic British Fish and Chips Recipe, gluten-free fish and chips, Vegan Fish and chips and more

Making fish and chips is easy with the right equipment and good quality ingredients. 

Try these recipes:

- Classic cod fish and chips

- Pollock fish and chips

Gluten-free cider battered fish and chips

- Chef Andrew Sheridan's take on fish and chips: cod five ways, pea puree, salt and vinegar chips

- Michelin star chef Simon Hulstone's roasted cod, tartare sauce, pickled onion and potato espuma or his haddock fried in a spiced poppadum crumb with masala chickpeas, burnt lime and fennel & red onion salad.

- Try something different: check out our cod recipes, hake recipes, Dover sole recipes, halibut recipes, scallop recipes, salmon recipes, turbot recipes, tuna recipes, prawn recipescrab recipes, langoustine recipes and red mullet recipes.

- Switched to a vegan diet? Try tofu fish and chips - tofish and chips

What to have with fish and chips: Mushy peas, tartar sauce or curry sauce?

Mushy peas, a combination of marrowfat peas - garden peas grown to maturation, then dried - steeped in bicarbonate soda then slow-cooked, to produce a soft and melting texture.

They can be served as such, minted, or battered and deep-fried. Though they are most often served with fish and chips, 'Pie and peas' is a dish served in the North of England consisting of pork pie, mushy peas and gravy, and in Ireland it is common to serve minted mushy peas with lamb.

Tartar sauce, based on the French 'Sauce Tartare' invented in the 19th century, named after the Tatar tribe from West Central Russia, who introduced finely minced meat eaten raw with the famous sauce.

Whilst the French recipe calls for mayonnaise (usually made with hard-boiled egg yolk), shallots, chives and nothing else, the UK's take on tartar sauce, most commonly eaten with fish and chips is based on either mayonnaise or aioli then mixed with capers, gherkins, lemon juice, and dill.

Curry sauce made its way onto our fish and chips in the 1970s, when many fish and chip shops in the North of England were owned by Asian families. 

An Irish take on curry sauce is darker and richer than its English counterpart, and typically contains MSG.

How to make chip shop batter

Typically, batter is made up of flour, salt, water and salt, and pepper - but with fish and chips, water is often substituted with beer, or sometimes cider.

The reason beer and cider make the best base for batter because they add carbon dioxide, foaming agents and alcohol, making the crust light and crisp.

Foams make good thermal insulators, so when dunking a piece of beer-battered fish into fryer, most of the heat goes into the batter, not the fish, leaving that to cook as gently as it should to stay moist and tender.

Best Fish and Chips - National Fish and Chip day -  National Fish and Chip award winners

Since they were launched in 1992, the National Fish and Chip Awards have celebrated the best of the fish and chip industry in the UK. 

The main category, 'Fish and Chip Shop of the Year', was won by The Cod's Scallops in Nottingham, closely followed by Shap Chippy in Penrith and Fish and Chips at Weston Grove. 

Follow this link for a full list of winners and a directory of the best fish and chip shops in Britain.

National Fish and Chip Day, held on the first Friday in June every year, was launched in 2015.

It brings together the whole of the supply chain, from the fisherman and farmers all the way up to the wholesalers, retailers, fish and chip shop owners, pub owners, chefs and restaurateurs to celebrate the nation’s favourite dish.

Fish and Chips Calories and Nutritional content

Fish and chips contain protein, fibre, iron and vitamins, providing a third of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins for men and nearly half for women. 

A total portion average - that is, 6 oz / 170g portion of fish with 10 oz / 285g chips and 4 oz / 115g Mushy Peas comes in at 1086 kcal. 

As for the frying medium, palm oil and beef dripping offer similar results in terms of calorie content and percentage of saturated fat, whereas rapeseed oil is lower in calories, fat and much lower in saturated fat.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th May 2021

Everything you need to know about the Great British national dish, Fish and Chips