No need to go down to your local chippy or search for a restaurant that makes real British-style fish and chips. This British Fish and Chips recipe produces that perfectly crispy and flavorful result you’re craving! Recreate the PERFECT British Fish & Chips right at home!
This homemade British fish and chips recipe has been a long time coming. Though I lived in England for several years it wasn’t until our two most recent trips to the UK that I was able to finally perfect the batter and technique. And so the time has come to share with you Britains most iconic dish: Fish & Chips!
WHERE DID FISH AND CHIPS ORIGINATE?
What we know as fish & chips today originated in England but its origins go back further. The technique of battering and frying fish in oil is thought to have come from Sephardic Jewish immigrants, specifically those from Spain and Portugal where a popular dish known as pescado frito (flour-coated fish fried in oil) had been enjoyed at least a couple of centuries earlier.
And as for the chips, the credit goes to Belgium.
One of the earliest references to fish and chips in England comes from none other than my favorite author, Charles Dickens, who in 1838 noted the “fried fish warehouses” in Oliver Twist. The famous Victorian chef, Alexis Soyer, also noted in his 1845 cookbook a recipe for “Fried Fish, Jewish Fashion.”
On an interesting side note, the first reference to the term “chips” for fries also came from Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, where he referred to them as “husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil”.
The first known fish & chip shop was opened by Joseph Malin, a Jewish immigrant, in London in the 1860’s.
Originally a dish of the working classes, fish and chips have remained a cultural icon in the UK for going on two centuries.
AN INTERESTING HISTORICAL TIDBIT: FISH & CHIPS AND WWII
An article in the Express a few years ago noted some interesting WWII history about the UK’s favorite dish:
“During the Second World War Winston Churchill recognised the crucial role of fish and chips, referring to them as “good companions”. Fish and chips were two of the few foods not subject to rationing because the government feared the dish was so embedded in the nation’s culture that any limit would damage morale. British soldiers identified one another during the D-Day landings by calling the word fish. The response was chips, signifying an ally.”
WHAT IS THE SECRET TO A PERFECT FRIED FISH BATTER?
This is a question that has probably led to more than a few fist fights. Opinions run strong in this arena and everyone has their own. Some say the coating should be thin and light and shatter into crispy shards when you bite into it (that’s what you get with more of a tempura batter and friends, tempura is Japanese, not British). Others argue the coating should be thick and puffy and the crispiness should be followed by a touch of chewiness. Some insist the batter should be dry while others are emphatic that if it isn’t seeping a bit of oil then it isn’t worth eating. Of course it all comes down to personal preference.
I lived in England for nearly seven years, we go back regularly as a family and let’s just say that when it comes to fish and chips, I “get around.” From the northern to the southern tip of England, we’ve hit many a fish & chip joint, more than I care to number. Each we time we go back to the UK for a visit my husband and kids are especially excited to hit the local chippies.
Based on my experience of living in England and eating at dozens upon dozens of different fish & chip joints throughout the country, hands down the best fried fish is perfectly crispy and isn’t overly greasy or dripping with oil. It’s the kind of batter where you both hear and feel it crunch when you bite into it followed by your teeth sinking into the tender white flesh of the fish.
One important aspect to achieving the best texture is to use beer that’s very cold and to use the batter immediately. If you let it rest for a while like some recipes recommend the fried coating will be heavier and denser.
For the same reason, if possible chill the flour before using it to coat the fish.
Besides the key ingredients (more on that below), another secret to achieving the perfect fried fish is the temperature of the oil.
I address this in my Traditional German Pork Schnitzel post where the same rule applies, only in the case of fish it cooks more quickly so you can raise the temp up a bit. The key is making sure the oil is hot but not too hot. The final key is to make sure the oil is hot enough – but not too hot. It should be between 350ºF and 375ºF (I usually aim for somewhere in the middle. If you’re not using a deep fryer with its own temperature gauge, test it with a candy thermometer.
WHY IS THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE OF THE OIL SO IMPORTANT?
Because if the oil is too hot the crust will burn before fish is done, and if the oil isn’t hot enough you’ll end up with a soggy, greasy coating. When the oil is just right (this is beginning to sound like the story of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears) you’ll achieve that perfectly “dry” crispy coating with a tender and moist interior. And that’s fried fish perfection.
WHAT ARE THE KEY INGREDIENTS TO ACHIEVING THE BEST BATTER?
The two key ingredients that are “musts” are 1) fizzy beer and 2) baking powder. These are key to achieving an “airy” batter. Plus the beer gives the fish that indisputably irreplaceable traditional British flavor.
Some recipes call for adding an egg but unless you prefer a chewier, “cakier” texture, avoid it. (If you do prefer that, use this recipe and beat an egg into the batter). But we’re omitting the egg because what we’re aiming for is crispy perfection.
HOW THICK SHOULD THE BATTER OF FRIED FISH BE?
Another key is the thickness of the batter: Some argue that the batter should be so thin that it’s almost translucent; that you can see the fish through it. Others argue the thicker the better. I like a happy medium. Feel free to experiment and see what you prefer.
WHAT ELSE CAN I USE THIS FISH BATTER FOR?
This batter is not only perfect for your fish, you can also use it to make fried onions rings, calamari and shrimp. Feel free to throw in some other things and see what yummy battered-and-fried creations you come up with!
WHERE CAN YOU GET THE BEST FISH & CHIPS?
Well, the jury is still out for me on that one. But my husband’s vote for the best fish & chips goes to Liverpool. Todd lived in Liverpool for a while and is admittedly biased, but I agree that they make some pretty excellent fish & chips. The particular place Todd’s referring to as his favorite closed down since our visit last year. That’s usually not a good sign. But whatever their reason for closing down, they did make some particularly good fish & chips.
But aside from Todd’s vote for best fish & chips, Liverpool is a great city. We’re pretty obsessed with the Beatles and especially love walking around the Albert Docks at dusk. (By the way, growing up in Liverpool Paul McCartney was a huge fan of fish & chips. Well, that is until he became a vegetarian. But that’s another story.) Another nostalgic Liverpool pastime was our family tradition of eating at the Harry Ramsden restaurant each time we visited the city. I’m not sure we ever had fish & chips there, but Ramsden’s restaurant (their West Yorkshire location) earned the Guinness Book of Records title for having served 10,000 portions of fish & chips in a single day!
And food and the Beatles aside, the Scousers are some of the most down-to-earth and best-humored people you’ll find.
WHERE HAVE YOU HAD THE BEST FISH AND CHIPS? TELL US IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!
Let’s get started!
For the Chips:
Heat the oven to 200 F.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a large heavy pan or Dutch oven until the temperature reaches over high heat until it reaches 325 degrees F.
Thoroughly drain the sliced potatoes and blot them with paper towels to remove excess water. Once the oil is 325 F carefully fry the potatoes in small batches to avoid overcrowding and fry for 2-3 minutes until pale and softened. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and let them cool to room temperature.
Increase the temperature to 375 degrees F. Carefully add the fries again, frying in small batches, until they are golden brown and crispy, another 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, place them on a baking sheet or roasting rack, sprinkle with salt while they’re still very hot, and place them in the warmed oven while you’re frying the fish.
For the Fish:
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large flat bowl. Pour in the cold beer and whisk until smooth. In another large flat bowl add some extra flour for dredging.
Blot the fish with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Thoroughly dredge all sides of the fish in the flour and shake off the excess.
Dip the fish into the beer batter to thoroughly coat all sides, allowing some of the excess batter to drip off (but not too much!)
For Frying: You can either use a deep fryer or you can use a medium-sized skillet and fill it with oil to a depth of about an inch.
For the BEST traditional-tasting fish & chips, use beef tallow! Follow this tutorial for rendering your own fat (it’s the same method for beef as it is for pork fat).
Heat the oil to between 350 F and 375 F, using a candy thermometer. Carefully drop the fish into the oil.
Fry the fish in the deep fryer for 5-8 minutes or until nicely golden. If using a frying pan fry the fish for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until nicely golden.
Remove the fish with a slotted spoon, letting the oil drop off, then place the fried fish on paper towels for a few seconds and serve immediately. (If you wait too long to serve the batter will lose its crispiness.)
Prefer some tartar sauce with your fish (though not traditional in the UK)? Try our BEST Homemade Tartar Sauce!
British Fish and Chips
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups light beer , VERY COLD
- extra flour for dredging , chilled
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh cod, haddock or other firm-fleshed white fish , cut into 4 pieces
- oil for frying
- use beef tallow for best traditional flavor (follow linked tutorial which is the same method for beef fat as it is for pork fat)
- For the Chips:
- 4 large Russet potatoes or other high starch/low moisture potato , peeled, sliced thickly and put in a large bowl of cold water until ready to fry
- salt for sprinkling
- oil for frying
- quality British Malt Vinegar , for serving
- **SEE BLOG POST Q&A SECTIONS FOR DETAILED TIPS & TRICKS**For the Chips: Heat the oven to 200 F.Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a large heavy pan or Dutch oven until the temperature reaches over high heat until it reaches 325 degrees F (I use this instant read thermometer). Thoroughly drain the sliced potatoes and blot them with paper towels to remove excess water. Once the oil is 325 F carefully fry the potatoes in small batches to avoid overcrowding and fry for 2-3 minutes until pale and softened. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and let them cool to room temperature. Increase the temperature to 375 degrees F. Carefully add the fries again, frying in small batches, until they are golden brown and crispy, another 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, place them on a baking sheet or roasting rack, sprinkle with salt while they're still very hot, and place them in the warmed oven while you're frying the fish.
- For the Fish: Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large flat bowl. Pour in the cold beer and whisk until smooth (use the batter immediately, do not let it rest for a while). In another large flat bowl add some extra flour for dredging.Blot the fish with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Thoroughly dredge all sides of the fish in the flour and shake off the excess.Dip the fish into the beer batter to thoroughly coat all sides, allowing some of the excess batter to drip off (but not too much!)
- For Frying the Fish: You can either use a deep fryer or you can use a medium-sized skillet and fill it with oil to a depth of about an inch. Heat the oil to between 350 F and 375 F, using a candy thermometer. Carefully drop the fish into the oil.Fry the fish in the deep fryer for 5-8 minutes or until nicely golden. If using a frying pan fry the fish for about 2 minutes on each side or until nicely golden. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon, letting the oil drop off, then place the fried fish on paper towels for a few seconds and serve immediately. (If you wait too long to serve the batter will lose its crispiness.)Serve with the chips, a sprinkling of quality British malt vinegar and if desired a serving of authentic British Mushy Peas (click link for recipe). Though not traditional in the UK, you can also eat the fish with the BEST Homemade Tartar Sauce.