Traditional British Fish and Chips

This Classic Dish Still Maintains Its Popularity

Classic Fish and Chips
The Magpie

Fish that is deep-fried in a crispy batter served with fat golden chips (French fries) on the side is still one of Britain and Ireland's favorite meals. The love for fish and chips ranks alongside roast beef and Yorkshire puddings (as well as the recently nominated chicken tikka masala) as an English national dish.

A Brief History of Fish and Chips

No one knows precisely where or when fish and chips came together.

Chips had arrived in Britain from France in the eighteenth century and were known as pommes frites. The first mention of chips was in 1854 when a leading chef included "thin cut potatoes cooked in oil" in his recipe book, Shilling Cookery. Around this time, fish warehouses sold fried fish and bread, with mention of this in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist published in 1830.

Fish and chips gained popularity when the meal helped feed the masses during the First World War. And since fish and potatoes were two of only a few foods not rationed in WW II, the traditional dish maintained its status.

Today, there are about 11,000 fish and chips shops throughout the UK and Ireland, so finding a chippie (a fish and chip shop) is usually easy. Fish and chip shops are now also around the world, including a few shops in New York City, and are especially popular in coastal regions of Spain. 

The Origin of the Chippie

There are claims to the first chippie from Lancashire in the North and London in the South of England.

No matter who may have opened the first fish and chip shop, the trade grew to feed a rapidly expanding population, reaching a staggering 35,000 shops in the 1930s and more than tripling since then.

The Federation of Fish Friers in the U.K. claims that in 1995 the British consumed 300 million servings of fish and chips, equating to six servings for every man woman and child in the country.

The record for the largest number of portions sold in one day by an independent fish and chip shop is over 4,000.

The Best Ingredients for Fish and Chips

A great fish and chips are only as good as its ingredients. The U.K.’s favorite fish is still cod and accounts for more than half of the total consumption. Haddock is the second favorite, and there are regional variations include whiting in Northern Ireland and some parts of Scotland, as well as skate and huss in the south of England.

When it comes to the chip, a floury potato is best—waxy potatoes can often result in greasy chips. The best varieties are King Edward, Maris Piper, and Sante. A thick-cut potato absorbs less oil than thin, so the chunkier chips are the healthier ones.

The perfect and traditional fat for frying both the fish and the chips is beef drippings or lard. Both give a crisper and tastier chip and fish batter. However, cooking fish and chips in vegetable or corn oil is now commonplace as it is healthier and more readily available. The oil must be clean and maintained at a constant temperature of 365 F (185 C) for the crispiest fish and chips.

Traditional Accompaniments for Fish and Chips

The classic condiment for fish and chips is vinegar with a sprinkle of salt.

And love them or hate them, mushy peas are also traditional on the side. In addition, since the mid-seventies, a curry sauce has also gained favor. The only other sauces considered suitable are a splash of ketchup or in Scotland a brown sauce. Although a continental habit of serving mayonnaise with fish and chips has emerged, very few Britons have adopted this. 

The Ultimate Takeaway Dish 

Despite the threat from pizza and burgers, fish and chips remain the nation’s favorite takeaway dish, nearly four times more popular than Indian curries. Traditionally, fish and chips were wrapped in greaseproof paper and a thick layer of newspaper which served not only as an insulator but also as a plate to make eating outdoors easier—because of health and safety control, however, chippies are no longer allowed to use paper anymore.

Many fish and chip purists, though, declare fish and chips eaten from newspaper outdoors is the only and best way to eat them.

Fat and Calories in Fish and Chips

Although deep-fried fish and chips are not considered a healthy meal, it is better for you than other fast food options. Fish and chips have less fat and calories than the average pizza, as well as a Big Mac or Whopper meal with medium fries.