There are many famous British pairings – Wallace and Gromit, footy and beer, Ant and Dec and of course fish and …….? You said it! Chips.
Fish and chips are a staple of British cuisine and a chippy can be found on almost every major street in the UK. There are many approaches to the dish. Drench it in vinegar? A bit of salt, or not? Mushy peas on the side? Maybe a pickled onion? Everyone has their own preferences and there are few who would pass up on some good old fish and chips. But are the origins of this unlikely pairing known and when did someone first get the idea to put fish and chips together resulting in the perhaps the most famous binomial in the English language?
The origins of this dish are a bit murky but we know that individually these foods were brought to the UK by immigrants in the early 19th century. The concept of batter frying fish (pescado frito) most likely came from Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugal where this practice was commonplace. Chips became popular at around the same time as fried fish and there was even mention of ‘husky chips of fried potatoes’ in Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities. Putting them together only seemed a matter of time.
There have been two men, one from Lancashire (John Lees) and one from London (Joseph Malin) who have laid claim to being the first to formally combine fish and chips for sale but the first restaurant is known to have served fish and chips together was opened by restaurateur Sam Isaacs in 1896 in London.
By the 1920s there were thousands and thousands of fish and chips shops across the UK and in order to keep costs down the oily combination was often wrapped in old newspapers, a practice which continued to the 1980s when health and safety standards were raised and there were concerns about cleanliness and hygiene.
Throughout two World Wars fish and chips were the ultimate comfort food – Winston Churchill calling them a ‘good companion’ and so certain was he that they helped to bolster national morale that they were the only food that was never rationed during the most difficult moments for the country during World War 2. Even during World War 1, the importance of keeping the masses well-fed was duly noted by John Walton in his book Fish and Chips and the British Working Class: „The cabinet knew it was vital to keep families on the home front in good heart, unlike the German regime that failed to keep its people well-fed and that was one reason why Germany was defeated.”
White Meat Only
An often overlooked detail about the fish used in fish ‘n chips is that it can only really be haddock or cod. All of the pink meats like salmon, tuna or trout which are often a bit sweeter cannot be used. There is also a kind of ‘flakiness’ to these particular types of fish that is quite conducive to these dishes.
Batter not breadcrumbs
It is also a common mistake to think that these fish have been breaded (soaked in egg and rolled in breadcrumbs before frying). In fact, the batter consists of simply flour, egg and milk. Sometimes a little bit of beer can be added for additional crispiness. 🙂
So what about you? How do you like your fish and chips? Do you have a favourite chippy in your town? Let us know in the comments below.
Binomial – word pairings that collocate together very strongly and whose order cannot be changed (rock and roll, salt and pepper)
A Chippy – a slang term for a fish and chips shop
Mushy – mashed into a kind of puree.