With the significant development of trawl fishing in the North Sea and the development of railways which connected the ports to major industrial cities in the 19th century, fish and chips became a typical meal among the working classes in England.
It is believed that popularity of fish and chips started with Charles Dickens when he refered to an early fish shop or “fried fish warehouse” in Oliver Twist in 1839, where the fish generally came with bread or baked potatoes, and “Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil” in “A Tale of Two Cities” in 1859.
Some claim the first combined fish and chips shop was opened by a Jewish immigrant, Joseph Malin, in East London in 1860, while others believe that a northern entrepreneur called John Lees was selling fish and chips out of a wooden hut at Mossley market in industrial Lancashire as early as 1863.
It has even been suggested that fish and chips helped win World War I. According to Professor John Walton, author of “Fish and Chips and the British Working Class”, the government made conservation supplies a priority. And during World War II; fish and chips remained one of the few foods in English not subject to limitation. Food rationing of the most basic ingredients of meat, sugar, butter and eggs, continued until early into the 1950’s. It is from these years that England gained a reputation for poor cooking and became a gastronomic joke worldwide.
In England today, with all the ethnic food influence on street food from Kebabs to Chilli con Carne; the most famous of all British street foods remains fish and chips. Most towns have a “chippie” and it’s quite normal to see people sitting on a bench eating fish and chips folded in a paper package.
In Australia, fish and chips gained an equal popularity, As an Island nation surrounded by wide open oceans, along with the British heritage; fish and chips is sold everywhere, particularly in beach kiosks for as little as $9.00 for a flathead, add few dollars for a barramundi fillet. While eating fish ‘n’ chips by the beach is an Aussie classic, the best quality is found at the Sydney Fish Market, an experience not to be missed and it’s where you can find the freshest catch of the day for a very reasonable price.
To impress your friends, the secret of the best chips is in the double cooking. Make sure you buy firm, thick, white fish fillets such as flathead or barramundi.
Place 2 cups of flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour a bottle of dark beer into it. The beer batter in this recipe gives a beautifully crisp coating that helps steam the fish and keeps it moist during frying.
Whisk the flour with the beer and, if necessary, adding water into the mix little by little to avoid lumps forming. Keep whisking until all the flour is incorporated and the batter is smooth. Whisk in 1 tbsp. of dried yeast and salt to taste. Leave the batter in a warm place for 1–1½ hours. Just before using add 1 tsp. of olive oil, which adds gloss to the batter.
Peel and slice 6 to 8 the potatoes, pat dry and cut into chips 1.5 cm wide. Heat sufficient canola oil in a deep saucepan and fry the chips for 5 minutes. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and leave to cool and drain on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Reheat the oil and cook the chips again for 7–10 minutes until golden with a crunchy outer layer. Season with salt.
Working in batches, dust the fish in flour and lightly coat in batter. Add to the hot oil and cook for up to 3 minutes, turning regularly. Drain on paper towel, season with salt and serve with the chips.
They say “behind every great man there is a great woman must be “Fish and Chips”.
Winston Churchill called them “the good companions”. John Lennon dipped them in tomato ketchup and Michael Jackson liked them with mushy peas.
Whatever your preference is, I hope you enjoy your fish ‘n’chips, by the beach; around the sharks, just like-an-Aussie.