BATTERED COD, CHIPS, MUSHY PEAS & ONION RINGS
This recipe for the British staple keeps it simple
Winston Churchill called them ‘The good companions’. John Lennon smothered his in ketchup. Michael Jackson liked them with mushy peas. I like them with crunchy onion rings and a fresh squeeze of lemon.
I’m talking about the humble ‘fish & chip’. The origins are inconclusive, but it has been suggested that it was served to market traders in London’s East End as early as 1860. Traditionally served with mushy peas, salt and vinegar.
I don’t remember exactly the first time I tried the combo, but I have childhood memories of sitting in a pushchair happily tucking into vinegary chips served in an old newspaper.
In my teens, on weeknights, we hung out by the riverside on our BMXs after a pit-stop at the chippie. Huddled in a circle we would unwrap our newsprint packages – as soon as steam hit your face you were immediately overcome with the smell of malt vinegar.
A chip fork made from a flat piece of wood with two prongs was all the cutlery you’d need. The best part was ‘scraps’ (the small pieces of batter removed from the oil in the fish fryer) not only were they crispy and coated in salt, but they were also free!
If your pocket money hadn’t stretched to the end of the week, you could ask the ‘chippie’ owner for scraps. Servings in old newspaper cones were common practice until the 1980s when it was ruled unsafe because of the inks, so the scraps were then placed in paper-lined cones.
IT’S A FOOD I TOOK FOR GRANTED GROWING UP; THERE WERE CHIP SHOPS EVERYWHERE. FRIDAY NIGHT WAS THE BUSIEST, CONSIDERED A TREAT
It’s a food I took for granted growing up; there were chip shops everywhere. Friday night was the busiest, considered a treat – I would often scoot out on two wheels to the local chippie with a list of who wants what. The chippie’s name would always cause a giggle, I used to go to ‘Frank’s Plaice’, there was a ‘Fishcotheque’ and of course ’The Codfather’.
Laden with the family’s cod and haddock combos I would cycle home. I could feel the heat from the vinegary bundles dangling from my handlebars. Unwrapping was a military operation, figuring who ordered what – no need for plates for this family meal.
Across the UAE I have found the duo pretty much on every menu. Always billed as ‘traditional’, like many menu staples the presentation has moved on from inky newspaper to slate boards, chips in mini buckets, smudges of mushy peas and lemons wrapped in muslin. I’ve seen greaseproof paper with vintage newspaper stories printed on and recycled printed cones. But whichever way it’s served, the recipe has remained much the same – though carbonated water has replaced bicarbonate of soda, and it’s now pea puree, not mushy peas. It’s still such a treat, though I’ve ditched the BMX, and I’m not sure if Frank still has his ‘Plaice’, but this still remains my ultimate in comfort food. This recipe is easy to follow, you can use premade tartare, switch the peas for coleslaw… whatever the combo, enjoy!
Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield