Fish and Chips, the national dish of the United Kingdom, is served worldwide to millions of people each year. The dish is simple, consisting of just two fried elements: battered fish and sliced potatoes, but its culinary roots tell a much more complex story dating back to the 17th century England.
The first reference of fried fish in England came in the 1600s when Western Sephardim Jews started migrating to the area. The fish was battered in flour and fried in hot oil just like it is to this day. The fishing industry in the North Sea grew rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries, and as it grew, more people in the working class began eating fried fish. As more people were exposed to battered they began adding their own flair to the recipe. Different flours and liquids were substituted to create various batters, and the fish was also fried in various fats to create vastly different flavor profiles.
During the boom in fried fish, people around the country were also starting to fry sliced potatoes. There’s no exact date when the first potato was fried and turned into a chip. Historians predict it started becoming a staple at home during the mid 1700s. By the 19th century families were eating chips with most of their meals. If they weren’t popular enough then, they were following the release of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens where the author famously wrote, “Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.”
The increase in North Sea fishing combined with the popularity of fried fish and chips amongst the working class of England prompted Joseph Malin to open his fish and chip shop in 1860. Malin promoted his shop by “frying fish in the Jewish fashion” and the iconic dish was born. In just 50 years there was an increase from one shop to 25,000 shops across England.
The original fish and chips was served on old newspaper articles, which is a practice that stemmed from simply having leftover newspapers. It was cheaper to use the newspapers than it was to buy paper products to serve the fish and chips on. Today the dish is served in a number of ways including the traditional newspaper.
The early shops were made up of one room with a hot pot of oil that was used to fry both fish and potatoes. Today there are multi-million dollar chains throughout multiple countries with automated frying processes. Fish and chips has become an English staple across the globe, and it can be ordered in almost every country.