Fish and Chips

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Fish and chips, that delightful British comfort pub food.  Since frying, as we know, makes everything better, and furthermore, battering and frying makes everything better-er, why not fry half of a meal and batter-and-fry the other half?

‘…I’ll cook you some taters one of these days.  I will:  fried fish and chips served by S. Gamgee.  You couldn’t say no to that.’

‘Yes, yes we could.  Spoiling nice fish, scorching it.  Give me fish now, and keep nassty chips!’{1}

Tolkien comes as close to admitting that Gollum frequents sushi bars in this passage as he does anywhere in the entire Lord of the Rings; you can imagine the restraint he had to apply in order to avoid this troublesome solecism.  We may also glean from this text that Sam was not, in fact, lugging around several liters of fry oil on his way to Mordor, probably to Frodo’s great disappointment.

Let’s whip up some fish and chips of our own!

Fish and Chips
Cuisine: British
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 2-4

  • 1 gallon (4 L) canola, vegetable, or peanut oil
  • 1 lb. (0.5 kg) white fish – cod, haddock, tilapia, or similar
  • 2-4 large brown potatoes
  • 1 c (125 g) white flour, plus a little extra for dredging
  • 6-8 oz. (180-240 mL) seltzer water or beer
  • ½ tsp. (3 g) kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. (0.5 g) cayenne powder
  • ¼ tsp. (0.5 g) chili powder
  • ½ tsp. (1.4 g) garlic powder
  • 1½ tsp. (7 g) baking powder

  1. Wash, then slice the potatoes into ½” wide fries, and set them under cool water to get rid of a little of the surface starch.
  2. Preheat your oven to 225 F (107 C).
  3. Bring the oil in a deep, wide pan – a stock pot or dutch oven – to 325 F (163 C).
  4. While the oil is heating, mix the salt, spices, flour, and baking powder together, then add the seltzer or beer, mixing until there are no remaining lumps. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook the fish.
  5. Fry the fries for around 3 minutes, in small batches – keeping sure that the oil temperature does not drop too low. Set the fries aside on a paper towel until they have all been cooked.
  6. Heat the oil to 375-400 F (191-204 C) – higher if your heat tends to drop precipitously each time you add fries. Cook the fries a second time until they are a deep golden brown color, then set on paper towels on a tray, sprinkle with salt, and store in the oven until the fish is ready.
  7. Cut the fish into portion-sized pieces (or smaller, if you wish, so that each serving will include several pieces). Bring the oil back up to 350 F (177 C).
  8. Dredge the fish lightly in flour, then cover thoroughly with the chilled batter. Fry for 3 minutes per piece, until golden brown, then let it rest on a paper towel until all the fish is ready to serve.
  9. Serve immediately! It is traditionally served with tartar sauce or malt vinegar.

Twice-frying the fries is an excellent way to make sure that the inside of each fry is cooked (the lower-temperature cooking achieves this), while still having a crispy, brown exterior, which comes in the higher-temperature phase.

As with all battered, fried foods, make sure not to cook the fish at either too low a temperature, or for too long, as this will cause the batter to soak up an enormous amount of oil, leading to a greasy exterior rather than the desired crunchy crust.

In the photos, I used cod, and garnished the dish with cayenne powder, kosher salt, and chopped parsley.

The baking powder and seltzer (or the carbonation in the beer), for those curious folks among you, both help the batter to expand to a decent volume.  Self-rising flour, of course, will have a similar effect!  The chilling of the batter also helps it to stay thicker than it would at room temperature.

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers []

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