Taking fish and chips to a higher level

Published on
January 26, 2016

With the announcement by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay that he is to open a fish and chip restaurant in Las Vegas, U.S. later this year, global interest in this traditional British dish is on the rise.

However, it’s doubtful that other countries will ever celebrate fish and chips with the same fervor as the UK, which even has a National Fish & Chip Day to encourage more people to enjoy the nation’s favorite supper. 

Fish and chips is the UK’s number one takeaway, and consumers eat 276 million fish and chip meals every year, with a value of GBP 1.2 billion (USD 1.7 billion). At the last count, there were over 10,500 fish and chip shops and restaurants throughout the UK, although in the trade’s heyday in the 1930’s more than 35,000 shops were in operation. In World War I, fish and chips helped to feed the masses and during World War II they were one of the few foods not to be rationed.

Ask anyone what makes a good fish and chips and there will be a variety of answers, from the type of fish batter and oil used, to the thickness of the chips, but one of the most passionately debated is the species of fish and whether it is freshly caught or frozen at sea.

There is roughly a north - south split between haddock and cod as the favorite species, with cod accounting for around 60 percent of sales, and haddock for 25 percent. Pollock, plaice, hake, ray, langoustine, scampi and many more, all find their way onto the menu in smaller quantities.

Since 1988 the annual National Fish & Chip Awards have recognized and rewarded the country’s top restaurants, takeaways, mobile shops and friers and at the 2016 Awards ceremony, sponsored by Seafish and held in London on 20 January 2016, fourteen different prizes were up for grabs.

To reach the coveted shortlist, shops had been appraised on their responsible sourcing policies, shop appearance and facilities, staff training and development policies, marketing and promotional activity, and local community involvement. They had also received several mystery shopping assessments and in-depth audits by industry experts, to ascertain the quality of the fish and chips and the levels of customer service provided by staff.

Finalists were rewarded with trips to Norway and Scotland to see the merits of each country’s sustainable fishing industries.

The crown for the UK’s top independent takeaway fish and chip shop was won by Simpsons Fish & Chips in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The shop is run by Bonny and James Ritchie, who met as students studying ceramics, were told on graduating to ‘get a proper job,’ and are now celebrating international fame.

They can expect a host of invitations to prepare fish and chips in different parts of globe, to run pop-up restaurants and to make numerous TV appearances. As previous winner Calum Richardson from The Bay, Stonehaven, in Scotland said: “Winning the national title for the flagship category was a life-changing experience with amazing subsequent opportunities opening in all directions.”

Winner of the Young Fish Frier of the Year award, Ryan Hughes from Tonyrefail in Wales, was ‘over the moon’ following his achievement.

“I have entered the competition for the past three years and this is the last year that I qualify as a young frier, so winning means everything to me, my family, my colleagues and my boss. I have been overwhelmed by the number of customers who have come in to congratulate me, saying they are very proud that I have bought the UK title to Wales,” he said.

“I have received a lot of media interest and have already had people asking if I can help promote the industry to other young friers, so I think it’s going to be a really busy year,” added Hughes.

It is not known exactly where or when fish and chips came together. Chips (pommes frites) arrived in Britain from France in the 18th century and their first mention was when chef Alexis Soyer included ‘thin cut potatoes cooked in oil’ in his 1854 recipe book, Shilling Cookery. Around the same time, fish warehouses started to sell fried fish accompanied by bread, and these were mentioned by Charles Dickens in his novel Oliver Twist published in 1838. ‘Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil’ appear in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859.

Whatever their origins, fish and chips are set to remain a firm favorite in the UK, and with Gordon Ramsay promoting its cause, this dish may even take the United States by storm.

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