Fast Food #5: Fish and Chips

Image of a young Mrs P and her dad at the seaside

Me and my Dad at the seaside, him channelling his Kirk Douglas look

Seaweedy swimming togs, sandy buckets and spades and wet towels. Your dad cleaning globs of tar off your feet with a rag dipped in petrol. Being stuck inside a gently steaming caravan with rain drumming on the roof, your siblings squabbling and your parents getting increasingly ratty, while you tried to stay between the lines in your colouring book with wax crayons that were too fat and clumsy and broke at the wrong moment.

You wouldn’t think it was possible to get that nostalgic about a family holiday on the east coast of England, where the weather was famously “bracing” when it wasn’t actually raining.

Image of Mrs Portly's family in pre-Mrs P days

The Glums: a famously grim photo of my family on holiday in the days before I arrived to brighten their lives

But oh the good bits: sploshing about in the sea until you turned blue and had to be towelled back to life; chasing elusive little fish in rockpools; fishing for crabs off the pier; being taught to swim by your father; building sandcastles; going for ice creams; riding on donkeys.

And eating fish and chips in a fuggy car on a drizzly day, the smell of grease and malt vinegar mixed with slightly damp newspaper wrapping and damper dog.

Ah joy. I think this is still my favourite takeaway.

Image of the beach looking towards Aldburgh

We sat on a bench on the seafront at Aldeburgh recently and scoffed fish and chips from the paper and it was lovely, except for the thuggish gang of seagulls with evil yellow eyes sidling up and screeching for scraps.

So, how to replicate the experience at home, minus the scene from The Birds?

Apart from spankingly fresh and sustainably-sourced fish, what really makes fish and chips such a pleasure is the batter.

It has to be light and crisp and keep the fish perfectly moist and flaky inside. It shouldn’t suck up and retain huge amounts of oil like some versions you get in fish and chip shops. Ick.

This batter is, I think, perfect. It can almost make you feel you’re not eating something fattening.

Beer-Battered Fish

This makes enough batter for at least three large fillets.

Image of beer-battered fish and chips


200g plain flour

1 1/2 tspn baking powder

275 ml ice-cold lager

Pinch of salt

1 large fillet of white fish per person –  such as sustainably-fished cod, haddock or pollack.

Sunflower oil for cooking


Heat the oil until sizzling in a deep fat fryer or to a depth of a couple of inches in a deep frying pan (I know you know hot oil is dangerous but please be careful).

Make the batter just before you want to start frying. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and whisk in the lager to make a thick, smooth batter.

Image of lager being poured into batter

Dip the fish in the batter, coating thoroughly, then lay it in the hot fat and cook for 5-6 minutes until golden brown, turning it halfway through if necessary. Drain on kitchen paper and serve straight away.

Image of fish frying

I’m not going to tell you how to cook chips, not least because I cheated and used a low-fat fryer, but this does give me the chance to talk about a couple of kitchen gadgets.

The first is as cheap as, yes, chips, and is stupidly good fun to use.

Image of potato in chip cutter

It costs about a tenner and it makes perfectly uniform chips in one of two sizes.

You bung a peeled potato into it, pull down on the handle, and out pop the chips. Simples.

Image of chips from chip cutter

The second is the low-fat fryer, one of my husband’s favourite bits of kit. You throw in your chips and a tablespoon of oil, and hot air and a paddle do the rest.

Image of chips in low-fat fryer

Does it make chips as good as a full-fat fryer? No.

Does it use less oil and require less cleaning? Yes and yes.

Would I buy it again? Given how infrequently we use it and how ridiculously expensive it was, no, not really.

The low-tech, high-fat, beer-battered fish, though, was wonderful.

Image of fish and chips on a plate

Image of fried fish

14 thoughts on “Fast Food #5: Fish and Chips

  1. Fabulous! I was brought up in Suffolk and also recall fish and chips on holiday in Felixstowe, Lowestoft etc. Always tasted fabulous.
    In Suffolk the skin was always left on the fish and my dad always claimed it was ‘the best bit’. I now live in North Yorkshire where the fish always comes ‘skin off’.

    • Thank you – I agree with your dad! I’m also not keen (and I know this is a contentious issue) on the northern habit of frying chips in lard. Many people swear by it though. Horses for courses, eh?

  2. My favourite! We had fish and chips last night. Beach holidays to me always mean those stripy windbreaks and the British skill of getting changed under a small towel. I like the look of the low-fat fryer – what else do you use it for? Your Dad is looking very suave and French Riviera in that family snap!

    • I know, good-looking chap, wasn’t he? I can see why my mum fell for him!
      Um – you can use the low-far fryer for all sorts of things, allegedly, but I’m ashamed to say we usually only use it to fry potatoes. There is a nice spicy root veg thing that’s in their recipe book too. I suppose the investment would be worth it if you used it a lot but mostly it sits on a shelf gathering dust.

    • Thank you – can’t believe you haven’t had fish and chips, it’s such a traditional takeaway over here! It is delicious but does nothing for the waistline …
      And thanks re the photos – it brought back so many memories, going through the family album.

  3. God, you are shameless in the stuff you offer on your blog. Fried fish and chips! Slipped under the tent in the guise of mordant family reminiscence. They really do look glum! The ultimate nightmare vacation–trapped together and nothing to do. Haven’t we had them all? Very sweet and funny. Ken

    • Heh, sneaky, eh? Re the Glums, I think the family was snapped by a street photographer and taken unaware. That’s what they say, anyway. Mind you, I think it was taken in a place called Skegness, the less said of which the better if I ever want to revisit my natal county.

  4. Ah fish and chips! I used to work in a chip shop as a teenager, and so never really ate them much when I lived in Blighty – not because my chippy was bad, quite the opposite, but the pervasive grease is difficult to remove from clothes and skin. Now I am an expat, and can’t get hold of decent fish and chips, it is what I crave. It is one of the first meals we have on a trip back home.
    I have to say your chips look lovely and brown – better than some chippies that I know of.

      • I helped a Dutch friend cook for a party once and couldn’t believe the variations she came up with on pickled herrings, sour cream and potatoes.

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