English Cuisine — Fish and Chips

English cuisine is, by reputation, one of the worst in the world.  Bland boiled meats, pies made from parts gathered off the slaughterhouse floor (Chris has had a steak and kidney pie; the idea of a second is a non-starter), and canned vegetables are what a lot of the outside world when it imagines a typical, say, Liverpool dinner.  The reputation is an artifact of industrial revolution mass production of food and wartime shortages of the twentieth century; England is in dire need of a culinary re-branding.

England quick facts:

  • Capital: London
  • Population:  53,012,456 (2011 census)
  • Notable Englishmen/Englishwomen: Michael Caine, Paul McCartney, Stephen Hawking, Seal, Sherry Bobbins

There is, of course, plenty going for England food-wise.  The Earl of Sandwich was an Englishman, and without his attributed invention there would be no muffaletta, grilled cheese, hoagie, hero, sub, Reuben, tuna melt, torta, Italian beef, or Filet-o-Fish.  For a meal on the go, there’s the Cornish pasty.  For a more decadent occasion how about a beef Wellington, tenderloin roasted inside puff pastry?  There’s Yorkshire pudding, Welsh rarebit, and Bedforshire clanger.  If you’re still not convinced that the English have made their culinary mark, lay your eyes on the full English breakfast:

Image from Wikimedia Commons

As it happens, there are hundreds of great English foods popular both locally and abroad, but likely none more well liked worldwide than fish and chips (recipe follows).  Today fish and chips restaurants can be found all over, especially in the British Isles, the United States and Canada, and Australia and New Zealand.  In the United States and Canada calling the otherwise standard French fries “chips” in fish and chips is simply a nod to the dish’s English heritage, but in England chips are cut into much thicker batons more akin to what we call here in the States steak fries.  Like French fries, the secret is to cook in two stages, one at low temperature to cook them through relatively slowly and another at high temperature for browning.

Fish and chips

adapted from Lavender and Lovage and BBC Food


  • 2 large Russet potatoes
  • ample oil for frying
  • one 12 oz cod fillet, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 12 ounce bottle Newcastle Brown Ale (any lager or ale is fine EXCEPT India pale ales, which are WAY too hop-forward in flavor for this or any recipe)
  • salt and pepper
  • flour for dredging, about one cup

First we needed to decide whether to fry the chips and the fish in separate batches or to attempt to time everything well enough to be able to fry simultaneously in two fryers.  Since we figured that the chips could be held in a two hundred degree oven while we fried the fish, we opted for the former, which has the added benefit of conserving a lot of oil.

In strict accordance with the BBC Food article, we put about two inches of canola oil over medium heat, monitoring the temperature closely until we hit our target of 270 degrees Fahrenheit:


Meanwhile we had time to prep the potatoes, first peeling:


… slicing into planks:


…and finally into about half-inch wide batons:


Our potatoes ready, it was a matter of waiting just a moment for the oil to come to temperature:

Close enough!

With any smaller of a cooking vessel we would strongly consider frying in two batches, but ours was big enough to do it in one:


Until the starch on the outside of the chips was cooked they were very prone to sticking to each other and to our frying vessel, so they were stirred frequently for the first three minutes or so.  After about ten minutes the chips were cooked through and just beginning to darken, and were ready to remove to a wire rack over a baking sheet:


The burner was turned up just a bit and the oil temperature was raised to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for stage two of frying:


The oil was ready, and in went the chips for their final frying.  As you might expect from the higher temperature, we were treated to a hailstorm of bubbling oil immediately:


After four or five minutes our chips were golden brown and looked delicious:


Since we needed to wait for the fish to fry as well, we put our chips on a wire cooling rack on a baking sheet, salted them, and put them in a 200 degree oven:

In addition, a concealed location inside the closed oven protects our chips from a grazing-prone Chris in the kitchen.

While we were waiting for oil to heat up and for chips to fry we were able to make our batter.  Our sources indicated that cold batter is better batter, so we kept our beer on ice:


When we were ready to mix the batter, we started with our flour, baking powder, and a little salt in a large bowl:


We added about half a cup of beer to start:


…and stirred just enough to combine.  It was clear that we needed more beer, and that the batter was way too thick:


Our second beer addition, maybe a quarter cup or so, brought us a little closer:


Still too thick by a good measure, we added another quarter cup or so and were close:


Cautious not to create too thin a batter (which could be fixed by simply adding more flour), we added a couple more tablespoons of beer and finally had the right consistency: something a little thinner than pancake batter:


Curious to see what we used, we measured the remaining beer; we were left with about three ounces, meaning we had used nine in the batter:


Batter ready, we moved on to the fish.  The cod was cut into several pieces and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper:


Next, onto a plate with about a cup of flour, the pieces were dredged in batches to cover:


DO NOT omit the previous step!  About a week prior we attempted this dish and forgot.  Our fish ended up like this, with greasy clumps of I-guess-you-could-call-it-batter tenuously hanging on just the corners of each piece:

This cod died in vain.

If we had to wait a minute or two for oil to heat up, the fish could be left this way in the flour without any issue.  Since we had just finished frying the chips, though, the oil was already pretty hot and was at our target temperature of 375 degrees.  Our sources recommend frying at a lower temperature but we went with the ‘FISH’ marking on our thermometer at 375.  The fish pieces were lifted out of the flour and gently shaken to dislodge any excess flour, then dipped and turned in the batter to coat:


Our blazing hot oil exploded with the introduction of the fish, so we knew it would take a very short time to cook:


After a minute or so the fish was already ready to flip:


…and in another minute, ready to remove from the oil and drain on the rack while we fried the second batch, waiting for the oil temperature to return to 375 before beginning.

Ready to serve, our fries went into their serving bowl:


…where they were introduced, in true English fashion, to a dose of malt vinegar:


…and tossed to coat:


Our fish and chips were served with a lemon wedge:


…and of course, what is perhaps Britain’s greatest export, a creamy pour of Boddington’s:


Fish and chips in England have few differences from what we see here in the states.  As long as the pieces of fish and potatoes aren’t too small and the batter properly sticks to the fish, it goes about how one would expect.  One important note is that the fish is never breaded.  That is a fish fry, NOT fish and chips.


2 thoughts on “English Cuisine — Fish and Chips”

    1. Thanks for the tip! We will call it a football-related oversight in the rush to get the post up before Sunday’s games started. To your point, the batter was crispy and light without being at all bogged down by oil like battered fish can be prone to. The quick cooking time left the fish moist inside so we would probably stick with the higher-than-recommended oil temperature. As for the chips: you can see from the pictures that the browning is a little uneven but the result was otherwise as good as con be expected. The inside was creamy, and the outside crispy.

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