If you were to ask anybody in the US to name a traditional dish that they would expect to see in an Irish pub, most would say Fish & Chips. It’s the staple classic we have come to expect and if it were not on the menu many would immediately doubt the authenticity of the establishment. So, it’s not too surprising that out of all the dishes found at The Field Irish Pub & Eatery, Fish and Chips sells considerably more than any other dish on the menu. So where did Fish and Chips come from and how did it become so synonymous with Irish pub fare? After all, isn’t it traditionally an English dish?
Fish and Chips originated in England in the mid 1800s with the arrival of ‘pommes frites’ from France (chips in England or french fries in the US) and rapid development of trawl fishing in the North Sea. This made it an affordable meal for the working class. The first Fish and Chip shop is said to have opened in Lancaster, England in 1863, they quickly began popping up all over England and Scotland reaching an astonishing 35,000 by the 1930’s. These shops helped feed the masses during the First World War and were one of the few foods not rationed in Scotland.
Though the number of fish and chip shops in the UK has leveled out to around 10,500 more than 227 million portions of Fish and Chips are sold annually and the market is now worth in excess of £1.2 billion (almost $2 billion). Now more commonly referred to as ‘The Chippy’ or ‘The Chipper’, one in six UK adults will frequent one of these establishment once or twice a week. The fish of choice by far in the UK is cod, counting for 60% of consumption with haddock coming in second at 25%. Cod are infamously lazy and swim as little as possible. This makes them white and tasty. Since, we believe in doing it the traditional way, The Field Irish Pub uses twin cod loins in our Fish and Chips.
It was however an Italian immigrant Guiseppe Cervi who brought Fish and Chips to Ireland in the 1880s. He was on a boat bound for the US which had a stopover in Cobh, County Cork. Thinking he had arrived at his destination, he and his wife disembarked and were left behind. He walked the long rocky road to Dublin and worked as a laborer to earn the money to buy a coal-fired cooker and handcart to go into the business of selling roasted chestnuts. The story goes that one day he mistakenly roasted a potato instead of a chestnut but the Irish loved it and he quickly realized that the potato business might work out a lot better than the chestnut business. He began selling them outside pubs from his handcart before finding a permanent spot on what is now known as Pearse Street. There, he opened Ireland’s first Fish and Chip shop and we’ve been hooked ever since.
How did this beer battered goodness become an Irish pub tradition? Oddly, within Ireland it didn’t. We still enjoy our fish and chips from small shops and mobile fish and chip vans like the one that inspired Roddy Doyle’s famous movie ‘The Van’. It is much more of a takeout than a sit down affair. In fact if you don’t take them home with you, you are more likely to consume your fish and chips sitting on a park bench or on the walk home from the pub. In most other countries, like the US, while there are no shortages of Irish pubs there is a distinct lack of fish and chip shops. This makes the Irish pub is the perfect venue for your next fried fix. Just don’t forget the malt vinegar!
Authentic Fish and Chips Recipe
The Field’s Famous Beer batter:
- 1.5 lbs flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp old bay seasoning
- 1 eggs
- 1 pint (16 oz) of beer
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
For the most authentic fish and chips, it’s best to prepare your chips the day before you make them. This is a secret of the best ‘chippers’ in Ireland and the UK. This is done so the chips can soak in water overnight removing a lot of the starch so when cooked, they don’t get too crispy. In fact, you really want your chips to be soft on the outside. Although this is not the actual process we use at The Field (we’re cooking for Americans), I would recommend trying this for the most authentic results.
Peel some big potatoes (Idaho’s work great) and cut into uniform steak fries. Soak in a large container of water overnight in the fridge to remove excessive starch. Heat your oil (vegetable oil or similar) to low heat (200F). Dry your chips leaving no water on them and blanch them for about 10 minutes. Remove them from the oil and let them cool for about 10 minutes. This is the key to making them soft, like real chip shop ships. Return them to the oil for about 15 more minutes or until done. Sprinkle liberally with malt (or white) vinegar and some sea salt, serve and enjoy.
Dredge your white fish of choice (cod or haddock work best or try halibut for the five-star version). Dip into beer batter and slowly and carefully lower into your oil. The low temperature oil for the chips will work fine, although you could even turn it up to 300-350F for faster cooking. (Note: If the oil is too hot, your batter will brown and crisp before the fish is done). Cook fish until golden brown and serve immediately so it’s crisp. Add this to your chips and your dreamy, fried fantasy is complete!