When the chips are down, add fish

You can’t go wrong with fish and chips.

Michael Sandel

Carpe Diem does not mean fish of the day. Anon.

When you think of England do you think of Fish and Chips, the unofficial dish of that North Atlantic tropical island that Tilly lives on?  Do you salute those Brits for the developing that recipe. Well what if I told you “DON’T READ THIS PART TILLY”

That fish and chips did not originate in England. But in 15th century Portugal.

Tilly: I knew that and am most grateful to the Portugese and the Jews who took the recipe with them to Portugal and then on to the UK.

“Fish and chips: the ultimate love affair between sea and soil.” – Fish & Chips

So just who created this popular dish?

Well step back in time to the Spanish Inquisition that outlawed Judaism. Many Jews fled into Portugal and eventually having to flee there also to many places in Europe and later, of course England. Of the many that stayed, they were said to convert to Christianity, while all the while secretly practicing Judaism. Shabbat which begins at sundown Friday nights, during this time cooking is not permitted. So on Fridays, during the day they would cook meals for the next 24 hours. So what was one of those dishes?

Try fried cod sometimes haddock, fried in a coat of flour or matzo meal. The batter preserved the fish and they ate the fish cold. Many of the Jewish people of Spain and Portugal also made their way to England and took the recipe with them where it an instant hit and was, sold on the streets of London.

Fast forward to 1776, and the American revolution, and  Thomas Jefferson, y’all know him, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, author of the Constitution and the 3rd President of this newly formed country. In 1786 Jefferson traveled to France then onto England. While in England, having tasted the fried fish, he called it “fried fish in the Jewish fashion”.

In fact Jefferson may have taken the recipe back with him. His distant cousin Mary Randolph may have published the recipe, and publicizing it further.


Dredge the fish well with flour, sprinkle salt and pepper on them, and fry them a nice brown; set them by to get cold; put a quarter of a pound of butter in a frying pan; when it boils, fry tomatoes with the skins taken off, parsley nicely picked, and a very little chopped onion; when done, add as much water as will make sauce for the fish. Season it with pepper, salt, and pounded cloves; add some wine and mushroom catsup, put the fish in, and when thoroughly heated, serve it up.”

The Virginia Housewife, 1860, Mrs. Mary Randolph

Forward to 1837, and Charles Dickens in his novel, “Oliver Twist” refers to “fried fish warehouses”. In 1854, Alexis Benoit Soyer published: “A Shilling Cookery for the People”.  On page 28, recipe 75 – 77, Soyer titles the fried fish, “Fried Fish, Jewish Fashion”

So where did the “chips” come in? England can thank Belgium for that. Going forward to Charles Dickens, in 1859 he wrote “The Tale of Two Cities” and mentions “husky chips of potato fried with some reluctant drops of oil”

WWII British soldiers in Normandy recognized each other by calling out “Fish” and waited for “chips” as the answer.

In America we do have fish shops, they are not as popular as they are in Great Britain. The one I go to uses that old British recipe including cod. Except here in the south we serve it with hush puppies. So good.

Now let’s talk about those chips, really Tilly, they are French fries.  So just where did these thin or thick potato slices come from?

Tilly: Chips are not slices in the manner of your potato crisps. They are fingers of potato, whether shoestring, thin fingers a la pommes frites, or chunkier.  

Well, according to French historians they came from France and according to Belgium historians they came from Belgium.  Tilly, since you live closer to both of these countries I suggest you sit them down to a summit and let them fight it out diplomatically. You know like Austria and Germany did with Schnitzel.

Tilly: Nah, not worth it … they all make for good eating. 

Feeling like a fish out of water without my chips. Anon.

Potatoes came to Europe from Peru in the late 16th century, and Britain was eating early versions of the chip – “potato’s boil’d and fried in butter” as described in Robert May’s “The Accomplished Cook” – by 1660. Fish and chips teamed up around 1860 in this quintessential British dish. Some believe John Lees was the first to pair fish and chips at Mossley market in industrial Lancashire in 1863. While others say it was Jewish immigrant Joseph Malin at a chip shop in east London around 1860.

Now for a bit of history of potatoes being introduced into that North Atlantic tropical island that Tilly lives on. Potatoes were introduced into England in the mid 1500’s. But again thank Charles Dickens for mentioning fried potatoes in “A Tale of Two Cities” after that fried potatoes became rather popular. Which is still true today, right Tilly.

Tilly: It certainly is, but In France, street vendors at Paris’ Ponte Neuf bridge were selling fried chunks of potato as early as the 1780s. Belgium staked a claim as the inventor: they have a petition to make frites served in a paper cone with mayonnaise a national dish. The story goes, in the winter of 1680, the River Meuse froze over, and to get enough sustenance, Belgian people ate fried potatoes cut in the shape of fish.

Fish’n’chips in the UK have morphed from seasoned flour coating to batters. Beer batter is good – makes for a light and crisp coating. Some of the best battered fish I have enjoyed was from a Chinese fish and chip shop – not too surprising, really, given the national ability for quickly cooked fried food.


Fish and chips: the ultimate multitasking meal. Just try texting while eating.



Olive and Tilly





  • Sebestiana

    Well, after leaving my Panko recipe, I decided to try a new version….ZERO fry, baked in the oven. You know it was exponentially easier, better,tastier and way less mess. I made the recipe just like I posted, but instead of frying it, I I cut the fish into strips ( don’t have to, just something I chose to do, a fish flat filet would work just fine), and breaded them according to the directions. Placed them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and set oven at 450. You can lightly drizzle with olive oil or oil of choice. Bake fish for 5 to 6 minutes each side, (each side lightly golden brown), turning over and cook another 5 minutes. Damn, they were the best fish sticks I have ever had! Not exaggerating. With the chips and the dipping sauce, we gorged our selves.

  • Cristie

    I’ve used Mayo instead of ketchup since high school. A friend and I decided we wanted to do something different one day at Sizzler (behind Thriftys). We even tried plain yellow mustard that day. While mustard is among my favorites it didn’t last, but mayo certainly did!!!

  • Jerry Bell

    I agree with everyone. Fish and chips are wonderful. I have eaten them all over the US, Europe, and Asia. In fact, my favorite way to eat chips is with Mayonnaise. I discovered it while visiting Amsterdam in the early 70s. I love this dish in just about any way it’s fixed.
    Thank you ladies!

    • Tilly

      I first tried chips and mayonnaise in Amserdam, too. Was a bit surprised by the combination – but loved it. Sooooooooooooo much better than tomato sauce (unless it is homemade). Rather fond of dipping chips into aioli … cut off the top and roast a whole bulb of garlic in a small pot., covered with olive oil. Usually 45 minutes is sufficient – put it in when using the over for other dishes. Squeeze the paste into another dish and use the garlic-infused oil to make the mayonnaise. Aioli is also relly good with a fish and chorizo stew: stir in a spoonful before serving and serve the rest on the side.

  • Sebestiana

    Very interesting read….. I love fish and chips. I do add Panko to my breading as it gives it a nice crispy crust/texture.

      • Sebestiana

        It wasn’t until a few years ago, I began using Panko, added to my breadcrumbs. I do love the crispy texture it gives to fried food. Just a matter of taste, I guess.

    • Tilly

      Yes, do post the recipe, Sebestiana. I use pank crumbs too – often mix them with herbs and spices for different taste explosions. Sometimes standard breadcrumbs take too long to make them fine enough for some dishes. I’m invariably pushed for time … and I like coatings to be crisp and crunchy!

      • Sebestiana

        I am sorry for the delay in posting this. Life has gotten a bit in the way. So, here it is, breading for the fish.
        1/2 cup plain bread crumbs ….finely ground
        1/2 to 2/3 cup of Panko bred crumbs
        1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
        1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
        1/2 or 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
        1/2 teaspoon of dried parsley
        1/2 cup of flour
        2 eggs
        3/4 lb of fish fillets
        2 tablespoons of olive oil, or whatever oil you prefer
        2 teaspoons of dried or 1 teaspoon of fresh dill

        In a shallow dish, combine the breadcrumbs, salt, smoked paprika, and parsley.
        In a separate dish, add flour.
        Whisk eggs in a third dish.
        Dredge each piece of fish, 1. Dredge fish in flour, 2. Then in egg, 3. Then in bread crumbs mixture.
        Place on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil or oil of your choosing. Bake until fish is golden brown, you may have to flip the fish once, before it is golden brown and finished.. approximately 10 minutes…5 minutes each side. Depends on how thick the fish slices are.
        That’s my fish recipe. I know that many like their fish fried, but I have found that the baked fish is more flavorful and tender than the fried, not to mention more healthy.

        Now for the dipping sauce.
        This is great for the chips, but I also love to dip my fish into it. Try it, it’s wonderful, in my opinion.

        1/2 cup mayonnaise
        2 Tablespoons of lemon juice… I prefer fresh squeezed.
        2 Tablespoons of capers, drained
        1 Tablespoon of grainy or whole mustard
        1/4 teaspoons of kosher salt
        1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
        1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
        1/4 teaspoon of dried parsley

        Let me know if you try it, and what your thoughts are.

  • Cristie

    I love fish and chips no matter the origin! One of the best I’ve ever eaten was in our hometown harbor, Oceanside Harbor to be exact. Our classmate Terry Cross opened a fish and chips restaurant many years ago with his wife Sue, also a classmate! I believe Terry has retired and unfortunately Sue passed many years ago, but I believe the shop is still open and hopefully still serving the original recipe. Yum, yum, yummy. 😋

    • Tilly

      The best fish and chips are eaten out of newpaper, liberally sprinkled with salt an vinegar (or lemon if you have it handy), sitting on a wall facing the sea.

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