Classic fish & chips is a meal that can make me feel a quite emotional. Joy, nostalgia and maybe even melancholy can be stirred in me by the sight and taste of golden fried fish and proper chippy chips.
The joy part is fairly obvious; it’s an utterly delicious combination of pure, white, soft fish, encased in a devilishly golden and crispy batter, married dreamily with fried potatoes. The familiarity of it is joyous too, and nostalgic; it was a regular treat during my childhood, loved by both sets of grandparents, who each had different rituals for eating it. My maternal grandmother would often order a portion of fritters too; discs of battered fried potato that had to be doused in salt & malt vinegar, normally eaten from plates on our knees in the living room. My Dad, and his parents, would put the oven on before going to buy the fish & chips, so the parcels could be put in there immediately on their return, ensuring optimum heat & crispness when eaten. Meanwhile my brother & I would be tasked with buttering slices of bread, ready to make heavenly chip buttys with. A common factor on both sides of the family though was mugs of strong tea. There’s no better drink to accompany fish & chips in my opinion, although I suppose these days I can be persuaded to choose a nice glass of white if eating it in a restaurant or pub, which I do often.
Of course fish & chips is familiar too in that it’s a national dish of this windy and rainy island of ours. It invokes an image of British seaside towns, perhaps mostly deserted on a winter’s day, an elderly couple sharing a fish supper, sitting on a bench looking out to sea. Or maybe when I’m in a certain mood that’s just my melancholic take on it.
While fish & chip shops took off in Britain in the 19th century as a working class staple, nowadays it features regularly on menus in gastro-pubs and restaurants. I’m all for this; it offers a different pleasure from eating fish & chips straight from the bag outside on a cold day, as glorious as that is. It’s here that the accompaniments  really shine, usually tartare sauce and peas, or increasingly pea puree. And like the main event, these supporting acts can vary wildly from sublime to disappointing. I’m particular about fish & chips and there are certain must-have in my mind for me to really rate it. These are:
1: No skin on the fish. Soft grey fish skin inside the batter is never pleasant.
2: Home made tartare sauce, with proper bits of capers & dill.
3: Pea puree or sometimes even mushy peas; I don’t want to be chasing garden peas around my plate, I’ve enough going on trying not to make a mess with the batter.
Fish & chips is probably the dish I order most when eating out and that’s why I want to start recording it in some way. I’m sure there’s been times I’ve eaten excellent versions somewhere that I now can’t remember. So I’m going to start blogging about fish & chips I’ve eaten, but will try not to be too much of a self styled restaurant critic. I’ll only name the place if it’s really good. The picture in this post is of the most recent fish & chips I had in my local pub. I ordered it there once before & it came with really chunky skin-on chips, not ideal, so I asked for their ordinary fries this time. It wasn’t bad, but the beer batter was slightly too thick & crunchy so detracted from the taste of the fish. Also the small amount of garden peas seemed like a bit of an afterthought. Not bad, but not wonderful. I suppose I’ll just have to keep on ordering it to find the truly excellent ones. No hardship.