When you think of Fish and Chips, what immediately springs to mind? Jolly old England, of course. How much more English can you get? Right? Well, sort of. While Fish and Chips were made popular in England, and from there spread to the rest of the dining world, it’s roots aren’t English at all.
Fish and Chips are actually a specialty of the Portuguese Sephardic Jews who fled to to the British Isles during the 16th century Inquisition. For observant Jews, fish is pareve, meaning it is neutral in kosher terms. This was especially important for Jews pretending to be Christian during the Inquisition. They dined on fish on Fridays, when meat was forbidden by the Church, and made enough to eat some cold the next day, when cooking on the Shabbat was restricted.
It is hard to imagine that fearful Jewish immigrants hiding their true religion in a simple fried fish would one day be responsible for creating one of the most iconic dishes in all of England. When Alexis Soyer, a celebrated chef in Victorian England, published his cook book A Shilling Cookery for the People in 1845, it included a recipe for fish that was prepared in the Jewish manner. This meant the fish was fried using oil rather than meat fat, an important distinction in Kosher foods. It wasn’t until 1863, when a young Ashkenazi immigrant named Joseph Malin opened the first British Fish and Chip shop in London that the fish and potato were properly paired. His shop was so successful, it remained in operation until the 1970s.
So there you have it, the origins of Fish and Chips. Enough talking, let’s get to cooking!
From Across the Pond Fish and Chips
Beer Battered Fish
1 1/2 lbs Cod Fillets
1 1/4 cups Flour
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
Pinch Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
12 oz Lager Beer
2 qts Canola Oil
Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking pan. Set aside.
Remove any bones and skin from the cod fish. Cut fish into 4-inch long by 1-inch wide strips. Dry the fish with paper towels. Set aside.
Whisk together the flour, salt, cayenne, paprika, black pepper, and garlic powder in a large mixing bowl. Transfer 3/4 cup of the mixture to a rimmed baking sheet. Add baking powder to the remaining flour in the bowl and whisk to combine. Set the bowl of flour aside.
Dredge the fish in the flour mixture on the baking pan. Shake off the excess flour. Place floured pieces of fish on the wire rack.
Add the beer to the flour mixture in the bowl. Whisk until the batter falls from the whisk in a thin, steady stream. Set aside.
In a heavy-bottomed dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat to 375 degrees.
Note: Use a candy thermometer to check the temperature of the oil.
Use tongs to dip the floured pieces of fish, one at a time, into the beer batter. Let any excess batter run back into the bowl. Place the battered fish back onto the baking sheet with the flour mixture to coat both sides a second time. Place the fish on the wire rack to rest. Repeat until all the fish is ready to fry.
Once the oil reaches temperature, increase the heat to high. Drop the battered fish into the hot oil with tongs. Fry, stirring occasionally, until the fish is a beautiful golden brown (about 7 minutes). Transfer the fried fish to paper towels to drain.
Keep warm until ready to serve. Retain the hot oil for the potatoes.
Deep Fried Chips
4 russet potatoes sliced into even sticks.
Kosher Salt to taste
Peel potatoes. Cut peeled potatoes into even sliced thick sticks. Keep cut potatoes in ice water, let sit 5-10 minutes. Heat oil in Dutch Oven to 375 degrees.
Drain potatoes from ice bath, pat dry with paper towels. Once the oil is hot drop 1/4 of potatoes into the oil. Let fry for 4 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Remove, drain on a paper towel lined baking sheet. Repeat until all fries are cooked.
Sprinkle chips generously with kosher salt. Shake the pan to distribute salt.
Serve fish and chips together on a plate with Malt Vinegar and lemon slices if desired.
8 thoughts on “The Story of Fish and Chips From Across the Pond”
My husband loves fish and chips!
So does mine!
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Delicious! Kudos for your accurate description of the origins of the dish.
Coming from a Sephardic family myself, the original recipe of fried fish with lemon sauce (fried potatoes were added later on) was always part of our menu, and still is one of my favorites.
If interested, check my post about it: https://ronitpenso.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/fried-fish-with-agristada-sephardic-lemon-and-egg-sauce/
Thanks. I love learning about the history of foods, especially how it ties to a people or faith. I’ll be sure to check it out.
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I’m also very much into such details. It is fascinating. 🙂
I never knew any of this! A fascinating story, that makes perfect sense when you think about it.