They do fast food a little differently in England; I learned that my first trip over. Scattered around every English town of any size are little food trucks selling fish and chips. And even though we can't quite match the original, we can give fish and chips the old college try. And Chef JP, fish and chips are a tasty treat...and perfect for watching football.
Fish and chips certainly is not a hard dish to make, and given our great choices of firm white fish here in Maryland, we can easily whip up a convincing batch. Did someone say rockfish?
Fish and Chips came of age in 19th century Britain where both fish and potatoes were cheap and plentiful. Introduced in about 1860, the dish had a meteoric rise and became ubiquitous very quickly.
Let's get down to basics: which fish is best? In Britain cod is the most commonly sold, but Dover Sole is occasionally offered and is the most pricey. Opinions vary, but the rankings go like this: plaice, a cheap common fish is OK but bland (also breaded rather than battered); cod is a good solid fish, and is quite acceptable; but haddock is the prized selection, and it too is a little more expensive. In the US, pollock is the classic fish sandwich species, and is pretty good.
Here in Maryland the rockfish would be a sensational choice, because of its firmness and flavor. Four to six ounce portions of rockfish would be perfect.
As for the potatoes, a good baking potato like the Russet is perfect. You can peel the potatoes, although some purveyors like to like skins on. As for the cut of the "chip", we are not talking American potato chips. The true chip is much like our American steak fries: big and chunky.
If you can get a pound or so of lard and get it up to about 185° you are deep frying in the traditional method. But most folks will use peanut oil because it is much easier to find and has a very high smoke point.
For the fish, the batter is the key to great eating. A simple flour and water batter will do...barely... but you are much wiser to use beer and a bit of baking soda to generate CO2 bubbles, which make for a lighter batter. Also, a shot of malt vinegar, with salt and pepper provides flavor and seasoning.
The fish are fried first, at about 185°, then the oil is heated to 200° and the blanched potatoes go in. Serve everything immediately, if not sooner, and have lots of sea salt and malt vinegar on hand. To complete the classic experience you need a bowl of mushy peas on the side, and a cone of newspaper to hold the fish and chips. Go outside, pray for a cold misty night, and stroll around the hood eating your piping hot meal as you walk. That is the way to do it, chum.
Here is a classic version of the recipe.
For the fish
4-6 6 ounce fillets of rockfish
2 oz. all purpose flour, plus a little more to dredge the fish fillets
2 oz. cornmeal
sea salt and pepper
tsp baking powder
1/3 cup of local Maryland beer
1/3 cup sparkling soda water
For the chips
2 lbs of russet potatoes, roughly peeled, and cut to steak fries size
enough peanut oil to cover a skillet to the depth of 1 1/2 inches
1. Mix all the ingredients for the batter and whisk briskly. You want a thick, smooth,
liquid batter. Put it in the fridge for at least a half hour to rest.
2. Rinse the cut potatoes in a colander to remove excess starch. Boil until fork tender in water with an ounce of vinegar added. Drain and set aside to cool.
3. Pat dry the fish fillets, and lightly season with sea salt.
4. Heat the oil in the skillet to 120°. Working in small batches, fry the potato slices for about 5 minutes to heat through. Remove and set aside. Bring the oil up to 185°.
5. Dust the fish fillets lightly with flower, then dip into the batter. Shake off the excess, and carefully lower into the oil. Fry until the batter turns golden brown, turning as needed.
6. Remove fish with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Keep warm.
7. Raise the oil to 200° and place batches of potato in it to cook until golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon, drain on paper towels.
8. Fashion a cone out of a page of today's newspaper. Fill it with chips and fish, and douse it all with salt, pepper and malt vinegar. Serve mushy.