What is English-style Fish & Chips?

In my neighborhood plaza there are two places for good take-out food. At one end there’s great Jamaican-style jerk sandwiches and at the other, fabulous English-style fish & chips. Both places have been named “Best in the city” for their signature dishes.

I’ve never doubted their claims of authenticity. Mind you, in the Jamaica where I grew up, there never was a jerked chicken sandwich but the spices were authentic and it is a delicious sandwich.

I’ve never questioned English-style Fish & Chips because they were the same as what I’ve had everywhere else in Canada – fillets of white fish (cod, haddock or halibut) cooked in a crunchy batter with chunky cut potatoes. I had heard about other unusual English habits. Like dousing their meal with brown sauce (which tasted like A1 steak sauce) and eating mushy peas (which tasted nothing like peas) but I’d assumed that the mainstays were the same in Canada and England.

All this changed when I watched this show “The Best Fish and Chips in London.”

The first thing I noted was all the greenery on the plate. There was the mushy peas but also fresh green salad. The mix-up of healthy and fried is a big no-no in restaurants here. If you must have salad with your fries, then you have to pay extra for it, and eat it on the side.

As for the mushy peas … is it supposed to touch the fries?! Truth be told, I’ve never been sure what to do with mushy peas. Is it to be eaten separately (like mashed potatoes), nibbled on (like coleslaw) or smeared on (like tartar sauce)?

The second thing was astonishingly different. The fish was cooked with its skin on! Never have I ever seen English-style fish with the skin on.

Now, let’s be clear. I have nothing against the skin. Cooking and eating the whole fish is normal in Chinese cuisine. However, I’ve come to expect English-style fish to be deboned, deskinned and flakey white. This video turned all my assumptions upside down.

I also noticed that the video hosts did not eat the skin. If I had to eat five plates of fish & chips in a row, I would leave bits behind too. But given that my world is already upside down, I wonder if it’s normal in England, to not eat the skin?

So faithful readers, I have questions for you.

In your part of the world, how is English-style fish & chips cooked? With or without the skin?

If it is cooked with the skin, do you eat it or leave it behind?

How do you eat mushy peas?

Is mushy peas supposed to taste like green peas?

51 Comments

  1. Hi Sandy
    Interesting comments. Not one person has addressed the fact that ‘mushy peas’ are made from marrowfat peas that have been left on the vine to allow them to mature and dry. That’s why they are so starchy. They are reconstituted and cooked till they are mushy. Not to everyone’s liking but my husband loves them if they are made correctly using marrowfat peas. We just returned from London, England and didn’t have fish and chips once. My son, who lives there, claims that Londoner don’t eat fish and chips but we saw plenty of independent fish and chips shops in town. There are pubs that are chains and they all serve fish and chips. The one independently owned pub we did visit in the neighbourhood where we lived for nine days didn’t even have it on the menu.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had read that mushy peas were made with marrowfat peas which were left on the vine. It’s funny though, how many recipes out there which use regular garden peas (frozen even) to make an equivalent. I’m sure it’d taste very different. I think I had the marrowfat version but am half convinced that it came out of a can. I bet the freshly made one tastes better.

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  2. I have never had anything green and mushy with my fish, anywhere. In Slovenia we like to fry or bake our fish with the skin and eat the skin too (that’s why the fishmongers clean it properly for you). In Italy, NOBODY eats the skin and they make faces if you do (goes for chicken skin too).

    I cannot understand why peas don’t taste like peas… What do they taste like?

    I only had fish and chips in London once, after the friend with whom I was staying brought it home for me since I had caught that murderous London flu. And let me tell you – that fish nursed me to health. It was yum, and now I’m SO hungry. If you come to Italy, I’m taking you to Fiumicino for some fritto misto. Sea food in marvellous batter. Oh my, so hungry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mushy peas tastes starchy and (as Amanda describes it) musty. I read somewhere that it’s made with peas that’ stays on the vine longer and that converts its natural sweetness into starch.

      You have hit on one reason why eating fish skin is not so popular here: cleaning the scales. Even fishermen I know, who catch their own, don’t eat the skin. They prefer to remove it before cooking or worse case barbeque it & lift the cooked fish off afterwards. Actually , for the latter, it’s a lot easier to leave the scales on when cooking on the grill.

      One day, when I come to Italy, I will certainly look you up and force you to take me to Fiumicino. You make me hungry!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We don’t have British fish n chips, just frozen fishfingers πŸ™‚ sans peas. But I have to say I was wondering about fish skin every time I watched Masterchef Australia: they were always eating “crispy fish skin” and “crispy pork skin”. Whaaaat?!?! Over here, you don’t eat either. I’d like to try them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought Finns would eat fish? Maybe you like it cooked differently?
      Crispy pork crackling is wonderful stuff. I love it the Chinese way just because it’s a bit more tasty with the hoisin dipping sauce. When I was living sans Cantonese BBQ shops, I learned to make roast pork with crackling at home. To make it takes 24 hours and a special cooking technique. But once on the dinner table … it’s gobbled up in 10 minutes flat!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Nordic cuisine was pretty popular a while ago. I remember seeing a flood of cookbooks about it. Looking up in wikipedia, Finns seem to have some unusual food groups too (reindeer?!) …. sounds pretty adventurous to me!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve eaten a lot of fish and chips in England and the best ones haven’t had the skin on. My husband loves mushy peas (I’m not a fan), I do love the curry sauce that comes with them though. The best fish and chips (in my humble opinion) is from a place in Yorkshire – Whitby. Man, they’re good! We have an English style fish and chippy here on the Sunny Coast in Queensland – The Fryer of Whitby – and it’s good enough to satisfy English cravings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Curry sauce with Fish & Chips?! That’s unheard of here. How would you describe its taste? Hot like an Indian curry? sweet like a Japanese one? or coconut like a Malaysian curry?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Also, there’s differences between tastes in the north and in the south – even the preferred types of fish (haddock or cod) and the scraps – the leftover batter bits deep-fried.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Being from the Midwestern United States, I don’t find many places with decent fish and chips around here. Of course, by definition, I don’t have access to what I would call “traditional” fish and chips. I’ve never been served fish with the skin on, nor have I ever seen those mashed peas, and I’m not sure I’d like them… but then, I shouldn’t pre-judge.
    I did enjoy Sarah’s comments, given her location, she should know about true fish and chips. >grin<

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe the consensus is that outside of the UK, most people know fish & chips as skinless. … and a lot of us don’t ‘get’ mushy peas. My thanks to Sarah for giving us an insiders view!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed. There is but one place in Fargo, North Dakota that offers what I would call acceptable fish and chips, served even on faux newsprint (wax paper, I think, with printing underneath the coating.)
        Of course, it’s a British-style pub. They also have Shepard’s Pie that is some of the best I’ve had… again, my frame of reference is the Midwestern U.S. >grin<

        Liked by 1 person

        1. In Canada, shephard pie is popular too and I get an excellent version in the frozen food section of the market (shh don’t tell anyone!)
          Here it’s always made with ground beef but I’ve read that original shepherd is made with lamb. I’m not a fan of lamb, so I’m happy with the Canadian version.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m betting that it’s beef. Seems to me that the British love of lamb did not follow Fish&Chips to the new world πŸ™‚

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  6. Well, Sarah has covered most of it. Certainly the peas are extras and mushy peas are basically the old English tradition of punishing vegetables until they’re no longer identifiable! But the basic fish and chips used to be white fish in batter with thick chips wrapped in newspaper or white paper.
    Here in Hawaii, the dish includes a local white fish – ono is my favorite – with fries (thick or skinny – I prefer skinny) served with ketchup and tartar sauce, the latter varying wildly from one restaurant to the next.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “.. old English tradition of punishing vegetables..” That’s funny!
      How does tartar sauce vary? I’ve never made it myself but it seems as if mayo, pickles and lemon make up the flavor profile, seems like it mostly pre-made since all the ones I’ve had, taste the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A lot of restaurants make their own tartar sauce and, while pre-made tartars probably aim for the middle ground, the homemade varieties can vary a lot. My taste buds aren’t that refined to pick out the nuances, but my wife has definite likes and dislikes and won’t go back to a restaurant with tartar sauce she doesn’t like!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m no expert, but I’ve had fish and chips in Ireland, (my first experience with mushy peas ) and eaten them wrapped in paper outside the Tower of London. (No peas, no skin)
    Everything tastes better on vacation πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My experience with Fish and Chips is the same as yours, Sandy ( fillets of white fish, with the skin off, cooked in a crunchy batter with chunky cut potatoes.) I’ve had mushy peas was disappointed in them – somehow I expected more. Loved the video and Sarah’s comments. Again, I learned lots from your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like fish & chips but make no claim to knowing what is authentic. I’ve never had mushy peas with them and in the States fish & chips is usually served with coleslaw. It would be interesting to try the English version.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s the same here in Canada. In many ways, culinary at least, there’re more similariites than differences between Canada & the US.
      If I ever make it back to the UK, I will seek out a genuine ‘chippie’ experience. I missed it on my trip there years ago.

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  10. I can certainly comment on ‘real’ English fish and chips, being English myself and living in England! Most of the places in the video look like they’re trying to interpret the dish their way, give it a twist so they stand out from the crowd. They’re NOT traditional fish and chip shops – what we call chippies.

    In a traditional fish and chip shop you would never get salad and probably not peas either – just fish cooked in batter (skin on or off would just depend on the preference of the individual establishment and maybe on the type of fish, but certainly skin on is common) served with chunky chips (never skinny). No vegetables, just salt and vinegar to douse the chips with. Normal fish options include haddock (the most common) or cod – always a white fish. Traditionally they were served to take away, wrapped in newspaper but that was banned some years ago on health grounds (nasties in the ink!) so plain paper and/or on a polystyrene or cardboard tray is the norm now.

    However, if you order fish and chips in a pub, as a sit-down meal, as is probably more usual now in some parts of the country (and certainly for me), you will almost certainly see peas included. Increasingly there’s a choice of garden or mushy peas, but I hate all peas so always ask to have them omitted! If you do have the peas, mushy ones are more usually served in a separate little pot, and garden peas sometimes are, but there are no ‘rules’. Tartare sauce is a must, although in cheaper places it could be just a plastic sachet! There’s often a wedge of lemon to squeeze on the fish, and sometimes I’m offered some salad or coleslaw as an alternative to the peas I’ve rejected πŸ™‚ They may even be served as part of the meal if the pub tends to include them with all dishes, but you wouldn’t normally expect them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was looking forward to your view, Sarah! I read somewhere that fish with skin-on is more common in South (London) England than North – have you found this to be true ? And I’m really curious, do you normally eat the skin and all ? On the one hand, I can’t see why not .. after all, on fried chicken it’s the best part … but on the other, the video seems to show them not.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t recall a regional pattern in terms of skin on or off, but I’ll look out for one. It’s not something I eat very regularly, so it may take a while to do a proper scientific study πŸ˜† whether I eat it or not depends on the skin – if it’s fairly thin, as is usual, I eat it, but occasionally it seems thick and tough so I leave it. Or I may eat some but not all if it seems nicer at one end than the other!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Here in the middle of the US, many miles from any ocean, fish & chips are typically skinless. It also may be fresh water fish rather than salt. We have great local fish that are often used. Not a fan of peas in general I can’t even taste mushy peas. Fish and Chips are a weekly item on my home menu.

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    1. I do believe fried fish with skin-off is common is most places. When I’m on the west coast, fish & chips is a regular treat for us too .. although I prefer to get it done by expert fryers outside of home πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello there. I’m a non-expert. But I think that fish and chips in England traditionally were served inside a piece of newspaper that was wrapped into a cone shape. And the fish was without skin. That’s the way I saw it sold in London food shops years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d always read about newspaper wrapped fish & chips but never actually saw one. I always thought it’d be messy with the black ink. Sarah from London, says that they don’t use newspaper anymore for health reasons.

      This reminds me though, of somewhere else (either India or Thailand) where street vendors sold fried snacks in paper cones made from printed office paper – phone bills, business mail etc. Very RRR but not very private!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. My beloved loves fish and chips English style: fish (skin on) typically haddock in batter, fat chips cooked in beef dripping, no mushy peas, no malt vinegar though he does enjoy some tartare sauce with the fish. I think they keep the skin on so the fresh fish holds together better when it’s fried.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love fish and chips. Around here the most common would be beer battered Flathead which is served in long strips, no skin. The chips are chunky. Those skinny “fries” are a waste of time. Other fish Dory etc has no skin. Trying to think of skin on and the only way with skin on is steamed or pan fried and not battered. A lot of cafe and restaurant fish and chips are served with a salad as well, usually in a bowl on the side not on the plate. Same with a tartar sauce should be in a separate bowl. Always a wedge of lemon should be there as well.
    Mushy peas are for pies only not fish and chips. Not my favourite and can be ok if done right but regular peas are better.
    My pet hate is putting the fish on top of the chips

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You describe fish & chips as I know it. I agree, chips should be chunky. Skinny chips are called frites and I like them with steak, preferably in a bistro in France πŸ˜‰

      I’ve seen people cook salmon on the BBQ with the skin on, but it’s mostly to protect the fish. When it’s done, they remove the cooked filets and throw the skin away. This way they don’t even scale the fish beforehand.

      I’m with you on the fish topping chips. I suppose the advantage is getting more chips but it does make eating the fish more challenging.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. No skin here, unless it is salmon, and why the hell would you ditch the salmon skin, ever?!!!
    I eat the skin.
    You have to pay for salad? Well, I guess we do pay for salad at a fish n chip shop. At a casual dining location, it might be chips and salad or mash and vegetables as a choice with one’s steak.
    Mushy peas are disgusting. Don’t like peas cooked at the best of times. Sauted in a fried rice or stir fry is the best I can do. There is a famous fish n chip shop here that does excellent fish and they do serve mushy peas free. I decline their kind offer but heaps of english folk like it. Mushy peas taste pea like, but has more musty pea flavour – at least to my way of thinking. It is best left to the English….

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    1. You describe mushy peas just as I remember it .. musty peas flavour. I found it surprisingly starchy which is why I wondered if it’s eaten like mashed potatoes. Although it’s not to my taste, it’s sounds better than some of the other British delicacies I’ve read about … jellied eels, black pudding, haggis. I’ll stick to the fish & chips thanks !

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        1. Neither haggis nor eels have crossed my path yet. Funny enough, they’re not common in Toronto.
          What is Danish style smoking ? is it hot or cold smoke? heavy or light? what kind of wood? and what kind of protein is normally smoked? Aside from Danish pastries and cookies, I’m not familiar with Danish cuisine.

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          1. I assume that the Danes smoke eel the way any others smoke fish. It could be hot or cold, I am unsure, Sandy. I think smoked herring features largely in Danish and German cuisine as well. They probably use birchbark as a wood/bark, as there aren’t that many tree species in Denmark to chose from. There are some Pine trees, and juniper is used in cooking, at least I know juniper bush is definitely used to smoke things in Sweden.
            The Danish cuisine has a lot of pork and cheese. The Danish meatballs are a mix of pork and beef mince.
            When I first went to Denmark, they served me a very traditional Danish dinner. The entree was smoked eel and herring. There was a lot of food, a special preparation of pork belly, whole new potatoes in brown, caramelised sauce. And a rich creamy rice pudding for dessert. (with sherry). Kleiner are sort of a fried biscuit like pastry, somewhere between a donut and a kruskit and made traditionally at Christmas time.
            Danes love a good sausage too! Lol. Their hot dog street stands are famous and the hot dogs are really very good. Much better than the rubbish we have here.

            The Danes are slightly obsessed with bacon – it is pork and there are so many pigs in Denmark! I have only seen a restaurant where there are several varieties of bacon before and that was the only meat on the menu. It was a bacon night! Thick bacon, thin bacon, boiled, fried, grilled….. served with salad and vegetables. Look up stektflesk.
            Breakfast in Denmark is quite healthy through the week. You have bread, dark rye bread, cheese and rolls. And small pieces of cucumber or capsicum. On weekends, some have thinly sliced chocolate, rolls, pastries and loads of sweet pastries. I wonder why the Danes aren’t fat?

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