Culinary Ambassadors: Street Food in England, Fish and Chips
Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. Want to become a Culinary Ambassador? Find out more about the program here. —The Mgmt.
Because it rains a lot in England, it's not very common to find actual food carts here. Then again, it rains a lot in Portland, Oregon, where food carts are everywhere, so perhaps rain isn't the issue. But there is street food here, which I'm choosing to define as food for walking around, or for sitting on a promenade overlooking the ocean. Yes, that's it. Surely fish and chips is the classic British street food.
It's simply large fillets of batter-fried white fish in a bed of square-cut or chunky fried potatoes, wrapped in newsprint-type paper (not actual newspaper, at least not in the 21st century). It's most often eaten sprinkled with salt and vinegar, or perhaps a bit of ketchup, and mushy peas. Mushy peas are not the grayish things you get from a can, but, rather, are cooked from dried peas, an old-school English staple.
I was surprised to hear that the best fish and chips are from Yorkshire, which I always associated with Emily Brontë's moors. Then I figured out that Yorkshire does have a coast, and remembered that Great Britain is a fairly small island, so a lot of it is in fact coast, which has wonderful implications for consuming fish and seafood of all kinds.
Getting back to fish and chips, though, cod is traditional but less common than it used to be due to overfishing; a good "chippie" might offer haddock (most common), plaice (a flat fish like a small flounder), pollock, and skate.
The frying fat tends to be a regional thing. Some parts of Yorkshire fry in lard, but I've been told that chippies in Lancashire, Yorkshire's neighbor and rival, more often use vegetable oil, which is most common generally.
My last fish and chips was at a social/professional meet-up in a famous pub in Cambridge that shall go nameless but that has become a wee bit touristy. The fish was decent, the chips were quite good, and the plate had only the tiniest dab of mushy peas (I suspect the staff had noticed that the typical customer, American students, tend to ignore it; a pity). I should have done the healthy thing and picked out the fish, leaving the batter behind, as one of my colleagues did, but it didn't feel right, so I ate it all.
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