04/09/2012 12:18 | By Helenka Bednar, contributor, MSN Food

How to make the perfect fish and chips at home

Wow everyone at home with a delicious version of this much-loved British classic.

Fish and chips (© National Fish & Chip Awards)

The National Fish & Chip Awards announced Britain's best chippy last month, but if you can't get to a chippy, how do you rustle up your own perfect fish and chips at home? MSN Food talks to the UK's best chefs and chippies to find out exactly how it's done...

What makes the perfect fish and chips?

As a Michelin-starred chef, owner of seafood restaurant Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill and presenter of 2012's National Fish & Chip Awards, Richard Corrigan is well placed to define what makes for a perfect fish and chip meal. "A light, elegant batter and fantastic chips," he says, "by fantastic chips I mean to say chips that celebrate the potato they are. What makes this national institution stellar is the balance of all these seemingly simple things. Easy to say, harder to execute."

How to choose your fish

"Use the freshest fish you can find, and don't be afraid to ask your fishmonger when the fish was caught," says Pete Fraser, owner of Harbour Lights fish and chip shop in Falmouth, Cornwall, which won The Good Catch Award at this year's National Fish & Chip Awards.

Harbour Lights fish and chip shop (© Harbour Lights)

Harbour Lights won the National Fish and Chip Awards' Good Catch Award.

Look out for sustainable fish when you shop. "There are many 'eco-labels' that you may see when out buying fish. In our opinion, the one that stands out from the crowd is the Marine Stewardship Council label," says Pete Fraser. "The MSC has extremely tough criteria that fisheries must meet before being awarded their certification."

He adds: "Rising world population, wasteful fisheries management driven by European politicians and a lot of people only eating one or two species of fish is a recipe for disaster. By buying sustainably sourced fish, you are really helping plus you are not being selfish. Your children and their children should be able to enjoy the same choices that you have had all your life. Fish and chips is so firmly ingrained in the British psyche and should not be put at risk. There is no better food to cheer you up when the rest of the world may be going mad around you."

Making the perfect batter

Using ice-cold water, flour and a good raising agent like bicarbonate of soda is the key to a really good batter, according to Stuart Fusco, who runs The Quayside fish and chip shop in Whitby. They Quayside came third in this year's National Fish & Chip Awards, and is famed for its fish in batter. "Keeping it cold is the key," says Stuart about the ideal batter. He suggests flouring your fish fillets, dipping them in batter, then breadcrumbs and baking them in the oven or pan-frying them.

"A simple batter is fine", says Peter Fraser, "If you want to include beer, go for a pale one, otherwise your cooked batter will look burnt. Use clean oil - vegetable oil is fine - and get the oil to 180C before frying."

Cooking tips

  • If you're using a deep-fat fryer, take care and have a fire extinguisher handy in case there's an accident. Never walk out of the kitchen when you're using a deep-fat fryer, and always, always keep your eye on it! Says Richard Corrigan: "Cooking time is often short, which is generally what causes the issue for home cooks. Don't be afraid, but don't be brutal either."
  • Make sure you check the temperature of the oil before the fish goes in. It's essential that the oil you use for frying is hot enough, otherwise it takes longer to cook your fish, and it ends up absorbing too much oil which makes the end result taste greasy.
  • If you don't have a deep-fat fryer, you can use a deep pan instead. Fill the pan with oil to a depth of around three-and-a-half half inches and cook the fish in batches, making sure the temperature returns to 180C before you fry the next batch.
  • If you're cooking lots of portions of fish, chef Alex Mackay suggests "leaving your cooked fish to rest on a rack in a low oven to drain," while you cook the remaining ones.

Richard Corrigan (© National Fish & Chip Awards)

National Fish and Chip Awards presenter, Richard Corrigan

  • If you don't fancy deep-frying, you can always pan-fry or oven-bake your fish instead. Either method will require fat. Says Richard Corrigan: "Where good meat has fat - an inherently powerful ingredient to success - fish has little. You need to compensate for this when pan-frying by working with olive oil or butter."

How to make perfect chips

For all-out indulgence, beef dripping gives chips a really beautiful finish. Again, if you don't fancy deep-frying, you can always pan-fry or oven-bake your chips instead.

For perfect chip-shop chips, try out this method from Massimo Tebaldi, executive chef of Renaissance Pubs:

  • To make perfect chips you need to select a good dry floury potato, like the King Edward.
  • Using a sharp kitchen knife, square off the potatoes into rectangles then cut them into chips of the size you like. Try to keep the same thickness, so that they cook at the same rate.
  • Place them straight into a bowl under cold running water and keep them there for about 30 minutes to rinse off some of the starch. Dry them in paper and blanch the potato in vegetable oil at 140C until gold but not brown (the chips should look dry on the outside). Drain the chips and cool down at room temperature then put in the fridge overnight.
  • The next day, deep-fry the chips in oil at 180C until crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. They should be golden brown.
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How to make perfect mushy peas

Perfect mushy peas couldn't be simpler:

  • Pop some fresh peas in a pan with a knob of butter, and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
  • Add a squeeze of lemon, season if needed and then blitz in a food processor or mash with a fork for your desired level of mushiness.

Fish, chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce (© National Fish & Chip Awards)

Perfect fish always comes with chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce.

Healthier options

Fish and chips is a tasty indulgence, but if you're looking for a healthier take on this British classic, there are a few adjustments you can make...

  • Try making a very thin tempura batter for your fish, which cooks faster and absorbs less oil. "The thicker the batter, the more oil it absorbs," says Zohaib Hussain from Zero Plus Fish Bar in Cardiff, who won Young Fish Frier of the Year Award at this year's National Fish & Chip Awards. "The thinner the batter, the less oil it absorbs, which makes a healthier product." Thinner cuts of fish also cook faster too, again reducing oil absorption.
  • If you're frying your chips, opting for thicker ones can be healthier than skinnier chips. "The thicker the chip, the less oil it absorbs," says Zohaib. "So the thicker the chip, the healthier it is."
  • Try using carbonated water in your batter mix for a lighter-tasting batter.
  • When you're choosing your fish, try out different kinds including healthy, oilier varieties. "I've always been keen on sardines, herrings and mackerel," says chef and cookery journalist Alex Mackay. "These deep-fry magnificently, they're smaller and they've got less moisture in them than something like cod, so they're actually really good for deep-frying at home."
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How to make perfect tartar sauce

"Your base mayonnaise is important," says Richard Corrigan. "Make your own. If this is a challenge, whisk olive oil and mustard into a good off-the-shelf jar. You want punch and attitude. After that it's balance, top-quality ingredients and a willingness to taste. Tartar sauce should contribute flavour and attitude. It needs to speak to the fish and to you, the diner."

Alex Mackay is the author of Cooking in Provence (Ebury Press £18.99) and his latest recipe book Everybody Everyday (Bloomsbury £20) is out on 10 May 2012.


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