Whether you call it “Fish and Chips,”  “Finger Chips and Fish,” or simply “Fish Fry,” very few culinary traditions are more British than a combination of battered and fried fish accompanied by thick crispy fried potatoes. This favorite takeaway food has been borrowed and adapted in countries all around the world.

Where Did Fish and Chips Come From?

Potatoes were part of British diets for generations, especially for poorer classes, but oddly enough, the combination of fried potatoes and fish may have been an accident. The chip may have been introduced as a substitute for fish when no fish could be had, and inventive housewives cut potatoes into fishy shapes and fried them in lard or beef drippings to provide a filling meal for hungry families.  

a historic image of a girl outside of a fish and chips shop.

In the 16th century, Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugal introduced the British to the practice of dipping fish in flour and frying it. It was only a matter of time for cooking practices to marry potatoes with fried fish to create the earliest fish and chips. In 1845, Alexis Soyer noted this cooking method in his first edition of a cookbook entitled A Shilling Cookery for the People.

By the 1860s, the first chip shops brought the happy pairing into a commercial setting. Joseph Malin, a Jewish immigrant, opened his first combined fish and chip shop in East London. John Lees, an entrepreneur opened his “chippie” shop in a wooden hut around the same time in Mossley Market near Oldham in Lancashire. The debate regarding who came first continues to be hotly contested.

The Industrial Revolution accelerated the growth of the fish and chips trade. Fishing trawlers increased production, and railroads brought fresh fish from the North Sea over rail to fish markets in English cities. Ice machines meant fish were fresh and readily available. Fish and chip shops multiplied, reaching a peak of around 35,000 in 1927 as savvy Brits seized business opportunities. Old newspapers were the standard presentation because the paper absorbed oil until newsprint was banned because the ink contained lead!         

Fish and chips were so important to the economy and so much a part of culinary culture in England that government ministers, in the interest of keeping morale high during World War I and World War II made keeping supplies of fish and potatoes a priority. Both were exempted from rationing.

Share Your Family’s Recipes on FamilySearch.org

If your ancestors left England as emigrants, they likely brought recipes with them and adapted cooking techniques to their changing circumstances. If you have a recipe you have made your own, it is likely that your children and grandchildren would want to know where it came from and how your cooking methods came to be part of your heritage.   

a fish and chips recipe found on in FamilySearch Memories.
A fish and chips recipe found in FamilySearch Memories.

a fish and chips recipe found on in FamilySearch Memories.

Take a minute to upload your recipe to Memories on FamilySearch.org, and tell the story of how it entered your family food traditions.

The following recipe, adapted from Simple Healthy Kitchen, is easy to make in an air fryer or an oven.

Healthy Fish and Chips

This recipe features crispy potatoes begun in the microwave, coupled with tender, moist, white fish wrapped in a crunchy flavorful coating that doesn’t add a lot of unwanted calories from deep-fat frying. It is a delicious and healthy way to enjoy fish and chips.

INGREDIENTS

For the Chips

  • 2–3 medium potatoes (use a naturally low-moisture variety, such as russet potatoes)
  • Coarse salt, a savory pepper blend, and paprika
  • Light-flavored olive oil

For the Fish

  • 2–3 fish filets of any skinless white fish (such as tilapia, cod, flounder, pollack, or halibut)
  • ¼ cup self-rising flour
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon cultured buttermilk powder
  • ½ cup unseasoned panko crumbs
  • ½ cup crushed, sliced almonds (Pulverize in a food processor, or use a meat mallet to crush nuts in a plastic bag.)
  • Coarse salt, savory pepper, and fish seasoning (Old Bay, Herbs de Provence, or Beau Monde)
  • Olive oil cooking spray (You can use a travel-size spray bottle to create your own cooking sprayer or spritzer.) 
Fish and chips.

INSTRUCTIONS

For the Chips

  1. Scrub potatoes with a vegetable brush, and
    microwave whole on high for 1 to 1 ½ minutes per potato.
  2. Remove, and let cool enough to handle. Potatoes should
    still be firm, but starting to become translucent.
  3. Cut in half lengthwise, and cut each half into
    thirds or fourths lengthwise.
  4. Season with spices in a mixing bowl, and drizzle
    1–2 tablespoons of oil, tossing to coat evenly.
  5. Transfer to air fryer, and cook at high
    temperature (400 degrees Fahrenheit) for 18–20 minutes, shaking once or twice to
    redistribute in a fryer basket during cooking time.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the fish. When chips are crisp
    and golden, remove chips, and keep warm.

For the Fish

  1. Thaw fish in the microwave; cut in portion-size
    pieces. Use paper towels to wick excess liquid from defrosted fish. Season with
    a little salt and pepper.
  2. Gather 3 shallow bowls. In the first, mix flour
    and cornstarch. In the second bowl, beat the egg white until it has a foamy
    consistency, and then add 1 tablespoon of buttermilk powder. In the third bowl,
    mix nuts, panko crumbs, and spices.
  3. Dip fish fillets in the flour or cornstarch mixture,
    and shake off excess; dip in egg and buttermilk mixture, and then roll in coating
    mixture.
  4. Spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray.
  5. Place into air fryer basket with the temperature
    set to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry 4–6 minutes on one side, and then turn the pieces
    over, and fry for an additional 3–4 minutes. More oil can be sprayed on the
    second side if desired, but for safety reasons don’t use any aerosol cooking
    sprays with a hot air fryer.  Completely
    remove the frying basket from the heat source to spray or drizzle cooking oil
    on food.  
  6. Return chips to air fryer for 2–3 minutes more just
    before serving the fish and chips. Serve with lemon wedges, vinegar and salt,
    or tartar sauce.

For the Oven

When using the oven method, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit,
but start potatoes in the microwave, 1 minute on high per potato. Cut into
wedges, season, and toss to lightly coat with olive oil. Place in a shallow
baking pan, and arrange the chips so they are minimally touching. Fry chips in
the oven for 20–30 minutes until golden crispy on the outside but moist and
soft on the inside.    

Prepare fish as before, spray with olive oil, and place in a
shallow baking dish with a rack in your oven. Fish and potatoes can fry
together, but turn down the temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit when adding
the fish to the oven, and bake for 15–20 minutes. You can drizzle more oil halfway
through for a crispier coating. Fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork.

Source: New on FamilySearch