The great British meal, fish and chips, served around the world as typically English, is not actually British but Jewish Portuguese. According to hallowed food writer Claudia Roden, it was originally brought here by Portuguese Marrano Jewish refugees in the 16th century. Another Jewish immigrant, Joseph Malin, was the first to sell fish and potatoes together, in his fish n chip shop in the East End.
Catholics traditionally eat fish on Fridays and my parents happily co-opt this custom by making Fridays fish n chip night. They go to Kennedys of London, an old-fashioned tiled fishnchip shop, established in 1877, which is a taxi drivers hangout. A line of black taxis is parked outside on Goswell Road, and portly drivers sport large enamelled necklaces ‘Licensed Hackney Carriage’. Black Cabs know their grub.
Most restaurants now do a posh fish and chips but decent chippies are hard to find in the South of England.
Have a go at making it yourself with my fail-safe recipe below.
What to drink with fish and chips?
You automatically think white wine or sparkling and of course that is a good choice. But Douglas Blyde, drinks editor of The Evening Standard, suggests rosé for:
‘more red fruit flavours and hint of tannin dovetail well with fried fish’
Try Primitivo Rosé or ‘posh blush’ as Blyde calls it, an enjoyably medium bodied pink from Italy, at just under a tenner.
Other rosés to try include a volcanic wine from the Auvergne in France: Les Volcans Cotes D’Auvergne £7.50 which gives you a light minerality and instant quaffability.
For a birthday or special occasion, splash out on Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve at £44.
I really enjoyed La Segreta, £12.95 from Sicily, a fresh wine with ‘green notes’ which contrast well with deep fried fish.
Strangely, although Chablis is recommended with fish and chips, this one , Chablis Jean Collet didn’t quite work, too lean, too flinty somehow. The next day I paired it with a lemony pasta and it shone. Just goes to show wine and food matching do work and is not a figment of a sommeliers imagination.
Sauvignon Blanc has the required acidity and freshness to stand up to fish and chips.
Domaine des Echardières Sauvignon, Touraine £9.95 from the Loire valley.
An Italian Sauvignon – Il Pumo, Malvasia, Cantine San Marzano £8.50 is worth trying. It’s floral with crisp green apple.
Soave Classico Terre di Monteforte £8.95 This award-winning wine made in Italy by a Kiwi winemaker works well.
Langlois Brut Crémant £13.50 small bubbles, citrussy and sharp.
Ayala Brut Majeur £25 dry and fruity, this works well with all fried foods: shampoo and chips!
Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV £28 English sparkling is often drier than French champagne and this elegant wine is no exception.
The savouriness of a fino or manzanilla sherry also drinks well with deep fried foods, think Spanish tapas.
Try a chilled Fino ‘Innocente’, Valdespino, Jerez £8.95 for a half bottle. Fantastic!
Fish and Chips recipe
For crisp batter, the ingredients should be very cold, even briefly freezing the flour, in order to get the reaction necessary when the batter hits the hot oil.
For that authentic fish n chip shop style, use a deep fryer.
Start by ‘blanching’ the chips, leave them to rest, then fry the fish. Once all the fish is fried, you can fry the chips a second time.
6 large potatoes (Maris Piper is a good choice), peeled and cut into thick chips
Good sea salt
4 litres of groundnut oil for frying
200g plain flour, cold (kept in the freezer for 15 minutes before using)
1.5 tsps baking powder
275ml cold beer (pale ale, bitter or lager)
1/2 tsp salt
a few shakes of white pepper
4 x 250g fillets of white fish, skinned
- Prepare the potatoes, cutting them to the size and shape you like.
- Then bring the oil to a temperature of 145ºc.
- Prepare a baking tin lined with kitchen towels.
- Taking care not to overcrowd the pan or chip basket, fry them for five minutes until translucent.
- Then drain, remove and put the chips in a single layer in the baking tin. Sprinkle them with salt.
- Continue until all the chips are blanched.
- Raise the temperature of the oil to 185ºc.
- Make up the batter in a bowl, mixing until you have a thick cream. Dip each fillet into the batter until it is well covered.
- Make sure there is enough oil to comfortably cover the fish (you will find that the fish and the batter seem to expand). Lower the battered fillet into the chip basket which is already in the oil. Leave to fry for around ten minutes or until completely golden. If you are concerned that the fillets are not cooked, use a digital thermometer probe to check that the centre of the fish is cooked, around 70ºc.
- Remove the fish and leave to drain on kitchen paper.
- Fry the chips a second time at the higher temperature until deep golden.
- Serve with wedge of lemon/malt vinegar/more salt. Or Barry Norman’s pickled onions.
Tip for chips: make your own frozen chips. Whenever I make the effort to wash, peel, cut up potatoes, I make extra. Freeze them for your own ready made chips.
Tips for fish: a quick batter that works well is buying ready-made tempura flour. Replace the white flour with it and follow the rest of the recipe for an extra light and crispy batter.
If the fillet is extra thick, slice it in half crossways, this means it will cook right through and more quickly.
What do you like to drink with fish n chips?
Wine? Beer? or even a good old English cup of tea?