You’d Batter Believe it!
Fish and chips is still the nation’s favourite. A dish that has been eaten – and loved – for well over 100 years, it is just as popular today as a takeaway or a pub and restaurant classic.
With National Fish & Chip Day on 3 June, we thought there was no better excuse to celebrate our enduring love of the good old fish and chip dinner!
“Fish and chips cuts across all sociodemographic divides – from the common man to royalty!” says Andy Gray, from Seafish who run the National Fish & Chip Shop Awards. “A relatively simple meal, when it is prepared and cooked with care and skill and served with a bit of love and attention, nothing could be more enjoyable!”
Secret to the best
“Sourcing the best raw ingredients is key to great fish and chips,” says Andy. “Care and attention must be given to the ingredients in terms of storage, preparation, cooking and serving. The fish (cod or haddock) should be moist, succulent and flaky, and encased in a light, evenly-coloured golden-hued batter. Chips should have a crispy exterior but a fluffy white interior. Serve with a portion of mushy or garden peas and a condiment of choice: vinegar (which emphasises the sweetness of the fish), a dash of salt or maybe tomato ketchup or a squeeze of lemon juice.”
Tops for takeaways
With over 382m portions of fish and chips sold every year, it’s the UK’s top takeaway dish. “Customers are getting a meal with natural ingredients, at a competitive price and with an amazing taste – who wouldn’t want that!” says Craig Buckley, National Federation of Fish Friers’ regional director and owner of The Fish Bar in Crewe. “The standard of fish and chips has risen over the past 10 years. With people having less disposable income and the competitiveness of other takeaway cuisines, the level of service and hygiene has risen enormously.”
Tips and trends
Some fish and chip shops are taking a trendier approach. Craig Buckley’s Fish Bar in Crewe has an open kitchen where customers can watch potatoes being peeled and chipped. Packaging is another area that has been modernised. Some shops have discarded traditional paper and polystyrene boxes in favour of bio-degradable and cardboard boxes. “Not only are the boxes a marketing opportunity; your shop brand, nutritional advice or offers can be printed on them, it gives you better portion control,” says Craig – who uses cardboard cartons for his own business. “They not only help with the customer’s dietary needs but help shop owners profits since you are controlling how much stock is given out.” With healthy cooking becoming more of an issue, oils such as rapeseed are becoming more popular. “It is healthier but more expensive so it’s not across the board,” adds Craig. “Fish and chips are regional. In Yorkshire, you’ll find 90% of the shops are still using traditional beef dripping.”
The National Fish & Chip Awards (NF&CA) is now entering its 29th year. The awards, open to a wide range of fish and chip businesses, have a variety of categories. “The awards celebrate the great UK British tradition,” says Andy Gray. “They have set a benchmark for good practice that has helped the entire UK fish and chip industry to define exactly what it means to be the very best from taste and presentation, to ingredients and operations.” The awards were set up at the request of fish and chip shop owners who asked Seafish to promote and protect their livelihood in light of increasing competition in the takeaway sector. Being judged one of the best fish and chip businesses in the UK can have an enormous impact on trade, with previous winners seeing sales increase by up to 100% within weeks of winning. The winner of the flagship Independent Takeaway Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Award, as part of the 2016 National Fish & Chip Awards (winners being crowned in January 2016), was Simpsons Fish and Chips, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
A pub classic
Fish and chips are a menu favourite in pubs up and down the country. Most pubs have them as a regular on their main menu and some, such as The Spread Eagle in Sawley, Lancashire have a fish and chips special on a Wednesday for the bargain price of £5! “It’s a pub classic,” said executive head chef Michael Penaluna from St Mary’s Inn in Morpeth, Northumberland. It has been open for around 14 months and fish and chips was on the menu from day one. “Done right, it’s a win, win dish. It’s our biggest seller – we sell around 100 portions a week,” adds Michael. “We prepare it in the traditional way using fresh fish and good beer in our batter, but we have worked on it to make it the best. It may be a simple dish, but to do it right there are a lot of elements to it.” He always uses cod, unless none is freshly available and then he uses haddock. St Mary’s Inn serves a good-sized portion – 400g fish – alongside chips cooked three-times and homemade mushy peas and tartare sauce. Half portions are available and fish trimmings are used to make fish bites and fish fingers for children. Gluten-free batter is available too. Offering takeaway fish and chips is a good opportunity to generate more sales (and profit), and something more pubs are catching on to. The Five Bells in Colchester, Essex advertise this service and recommend customers come into the pub to have it cooked to order. It will take 15 minutes – just time for a pint!
Customers still want good old tasty fish and chips but some are looking for lower fat options. One alternative is Maggi’s Lemon & Herb Crunchy Bake; a seasoned crumb coating ideal for baked fish, and particularly good for schools and anywhere looking for a healthy alternative to frying. Just coat your fish and bake. It contains no added MSG, preservatives, colours or flavours and meets the government’s 2012 responsibility deal salt target. It adds an interesting crunch to cheaper cuts of fish like hake or coley, and is a great way to get children eating oily fish such as trout and salmon.
Fish and chips wouldn’t be the same without salt and Sarson’s vinegar but new research has discovered that those fish and chip outlets that don’t sell sauces are missing out. “These days sauces should be available; they are a core part of the fish and chip offering and they complement the menu, giving fish and chip shops the opportunity to make more profit,” says Chris Gardiner, UK marketing lead for Heinz Foodservice. Heinz has found that customers are prepared to pay up to 35p for their SqueezeMe pod range. “Traditional shops should be offering at the very least ketchup, tartare and mayonnaise – but with Americana still being a big food trend, fish and chip shops should consider adding BBQ sauce to their offering.” Adding gravy or curry sauce to fish and chips is a continual bone of contention between the north and south, but are still firm favourites – just don’t forget a gluten-free option for the gravy.
Where did it all begin?
- Fried fish was introduced to London by Jewish immigrants as far back as the 17th century. Fried potatoes as chips probably originate from Belgium.
- Fish and chips were first served together as a complete dish around 1860 – the Malin family of London and the Lee’s of Mossley, near Manchester both staking claims to be the first.
- From the 1870s the fish and chip trade spread rapidly, and soon became a readily accessible hot, nutritious meal for many factory and mill workers.
- From the 1880s onto the post-war years, fish and chips remained an affordable family shared meal.
- By 1910 there were around 25,000 fish and chip shops around the country, peaking at 35,000.
- Fish and chips helped win the First World War! It helped feed munitions workers and kept the families of the fighting men in good heart.
- British soldiers identified each other during the ‘D’ Day landings by calling out ‘fish’ and the response or password was ‘chips’.
Gluten-free options are becoming more available in takeaways and pubs. Bizzie Lizzie’s in Skipton, North Yorkshire uses a mixture of rice, potato, tapioca, maize, buckwheat and gram flours for its gluten- free batter. And to make sure that there is no chance of contamination a dedicated part of the frying range is used exclusively to cook the gluten-free fish – which is available at exactly the same price as the normal battered fish. “We have had an extremely positive reaction since we started offering gluten-free fish and chips last year, helped by obtaining ‘Accredited By Coeliac UK’ status shortly after,” says Katie Davison, marketing director.
Fizz and chips!
A pub or restaurant can make their fish and chips a higher premium by serving it with some fizz! Mateus sparkling rosé goes great with the dish. Or how about having an offer on Prosecco? A free glass with every order of fish and chips during quieter times will boost sales – and profits – on both.