Whether you call it “Fish and Chips,” “Finger Chips and Fish,” or simply “Fish Fry,” very few culinary traditions are more British than a combination of battered and fried fish accompanied by thick crispy fried potatoes. This favorite takeaway food has been borrowed and adapted in countries all around the world.
Where Did Fish and Chips Come From?
Potatoes were part of British diets for generations, especially for poorer classes, but oddly enough, the combination of fried potatoes and fish may have been an accident. The chip may have been introduced as a substitute for fish when no fish could be had, and inventive housewives cut potatoes into fishy shapes and fried them in lard or beef drippings to provide a filling meal for hungry families.
In the 16th century, Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugal introduced the British to the practice of dipping fish in flour and frying it. It was only a matter of time for cooking practices to marry potatoes with fried fish to create the earliest fish and chips. In 1845, Alexis Soyer noted this cooking method in his first edition of a cookbook entitled A Shilling Cookery for the People.
By the 1860s, the first chip shops brought the happy pairing into a commercial setting. Joseph Malin, a Jewish immigrant, opened his first combined fish and chip shop in East London. John Lees, an entrepreneur opened his “chippie” shop in a wooden hut around the same time in Mossley Market near Oldham in Lancashire. The debate regarding who came first continues to be hotly contested.
The Industrial Revolution accelerated the growth of the fish and chips trade. Fishing trawlers increased production, and railroads brought fresh fish from the North Sea over rail to fish markets in English cities. Ice machines meant fish were fresh and readily available. Fish and chip shops multiplied, reaching a peak of around 35,000 in 1927 as savvy Brits seized business opportunities. Old newspapers were the standard presentation because the paper absorbed oil until newsprint was banned because the ink contained lead!
Fish and chips were so important to the economy and so much a part of culinary culture in England that government ministers, in the interest of keeping morale high during World War I and World War II made keeping supplies of fish and potatoes a priority. Both were exempted from rationing.
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If your ancestors left England as emigrants, they likely brought recipes with them and adapted cooking techniques to their changing circumstances. If you have a recipe you have made your own, it is likely that your children and grandchildren would want to know where it came from and how your cooking methods came to be part of your heritage.
The following recipe, adapted from Simple Healthy Kitchen, is easy to make in an air fryer or an oven.
Healthy Fish and Chips
This recipe features crispy potatoes begun in the microwave, coupled with tender, moist, white fish wrapped in a crunchy flavorful coating that doesn’t add a lot of unwanted calories from deep-fat frying. It is a delicious and healthy way to enjoy fish and chips.
For the Chips
- 2–3 medium potatoes (use a naturally low-moisture variety, such as russet potatoes)
- Coarse salt, a savory pepper blend, and paprika
- Light-flavored olive oil
For the Fish
- 2–3 fish filets of any skinless white fish (such as tilapia, cod, flounder, pollack, or halibut)
- ¼ cup self-rising flour
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon cultured buttermilk powder
- ½ cup unseasoned panko crumbs
- ½ cup crushed, sliced almonds (Pulverize in a food processor, or use a meat mallet to crush nuts in a plastic bag.)
- Coarse salt, savory pepper, and fish seasoning (Old Bay, Herbs de Provence, or Beau Monde)
- Olive oil cooking spray (You can use a travel-size spray bottle to create your own cooking sprayer or spritzer.)
For the Chips
- Scrub potatoes with a vegetable brush, and microwave whole on high for 1 to 1 ½ minutes per potato.
- Remove, and let cool enough to handle. Potatoes should still be firm, but starting to become translucent.
- Cut in half lengthwise, and cut each half into thirds or fourths lengthwise.
- Season with spices in a mixing bowl, and drizzle 1–2 tablespoons of oil, tossing to coat evenly.
- Transfer to air fryer, and cook at high temperature (400 degrees Fahrenheit) for 18–20 minutes, shaking once or twice to redistribute in a fryer basket during cooking time.
- Meanwhile, prepare the fish. When chips are crisp and golden, remove chips, and keep warm.
For the Fish
- Thaw fish in the microwave; cut in portion-size pieces. Use paper towels to wick excess liquid from defrosted fish. Season with a little salt and pepper.
- Gather 3 shallow bowls. In the first, mix flour and cornstarch. In the second bowl, beat the egg white until it has a foamy consistency, and then add 1 tablespoon of buttermilk powder. In the third bowl, mix nuts, panko crumbs, and spices.
- Dip fish fillets in the flour or cornstarch mixture, and shake off excess; dip in egg and buttermilk mixture, and then roll in coating mixture.
- Spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray.
- Place into air fryer basket with the temperature set to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry 4–6 minutes on one side, and then turn the pieces over, and fry for an additional 3–4 minutes. More oil can be sprayed on the second side if desired, but for safety reasons don’t use any aerosol cooking sprays with a hot air fryer. Completely remove the frying basket from the heat source to spray or drizzle cooking oil on food.
- Return chips to air fryer for 2–3 minutes more just before serving the fish and chips. Serve with lemon wedges, vinegar and salt, or tartar sauce.
For the Oven
When using the oven method, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, but start potatoes in the microwave, 1 minute on high per potato. Cut into wedges, season, and toss to lightly coat with olive oil. Place in a shallow baking pan, and arrange the chips so they are minimally touching. Fry chips in the oven for 20–30 minutes until golden crispy on the outside but moist and soft on the inside.
Prepare fish as before, spray with olive oil, and place in a shallow baking dish with a rack in your oven. Fish and potatoes can fry together, but turn down the temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit when adding the fish to the oven, and bake for 15–20 minutes. You can drizzle more oil halfway through for a crispier coating. Fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork.