In partnership with Sainsbury's
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.
  • The UK's best cheap eats
  • Are we a nation of diners, not cooks?

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."
  • Superfood or superfad?
  • How to eat healthily in 2012

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.

09/02/2012 14:03

I have been cooking fish and chips for many years, and I don't leave chips overnight in the fridge! my chips are peeled dried and cooked in 30 minutes, as for fish I buy this fresh as we want it and I make my own batter, with a dash of vinegar in it, my husband, relations and friends have all remarked how tasty they are, oh and by the way I cook them in "DRIPPING", you can keep all this healthy living ingredients, we were brought up on butter, lard, dripping, sugar etc, and my husband and I are 75yr old, it certainly hasn't harmed us.

One last thing, I come from one of the best fishing communities HULL and GRIMSBY...

09/02/2012 14:19
Never seen a bigger load of crap about the mushy peas obviously written by someone who has no idea what mushy peas are..........THEY ARE DRIED PEAS THAT ARE STEEPED OVERNIGHT IN WATER AND BICARB SODA AND THEN wonder so many people turn their noses up at them....I wouldn't eat those as described in this article.
09/02/2012 13:25
The ridiculous chips cooking idea ever!!!  To eat some home made chips you have to waste 30 minutes of running water and wait a day as you'll have to leave them in the fridge over night to make the "PERFECT CHIPS" the next day. Totally ridiculous!!!  There must be an easier and more rational and economical way of eating your potatoes and chips!
09/02/2012 13:50
That recipe for mushy peas is naff and and thats not traditional way to make them
09/02/2012 02:03
having grown up just after the war there was not much food around but mum bless her soul always made sure tom my brother and i were fed as well as possible some of the recipe's beggered belief but i can never remember being hungry,and remember there was no family allowance or dole or anything else around to help you then,if there was problems over money mum never showed it,we  seen are dad only fleetingly over the years because he was a royal naval officer when he used to come home on leave tom and i always thought who is that  even after being told by mum that he was dad,anyway enough pratteling on my point is the young today do not know how to make a meal what with micro meals frozen meals and worst of all gravy in a cardboard box i see the new breed of chefs and i salute them they are trying to bring proper food back
09/02/2012 10:20
I agree, John.  Good food isn't hard or mysterious.  It just takes the right attitude.  OK, I use a microwave, open tins or jars and use stock cubes, but to cook something from scratch is so satisfying, not to say tastier, healthier and more rewarding.  Compare the list of ingedients on a ready meal and then consider the same for a simple meal coked from scratch.  What's with all the chemicals?  I learned to cook from my Mum, who learned from hers and I ove it.  Now my son at uni AND HIS GIRLFRIEND regularly contact me for advice and tips on cooking.  The legacy continues.
09/02/2012 18:42
I am thirty three (i consider myself fairly young!) and have three children. I am a stay at home mum and cook all meals from scratch. I never buy ready meals but don't look down on anyone who does sometimes there are not enough hours in the day! I have entertained many of my friends who love my cooking(brag much) they have asked for recipes and instructions. Never have i told them to wash anything for thirty minutes! With instructions like these from a top chef no wonder people get intimidated by cooking! Bring back a Julia or Delia any day!
09/02/2012 14:16
Just be careful ?? I heard that some unreputable  fish shops were using Vietnamese River Cobbler or Basa fish fillets which are a type of Catfish ?? it doesnt taste bad but has a bad reputation and there are heavy metal concernes with this product. I think we are better using fish caight in our own waters , and not the warm polluted river waters found  in some countries. some of our supermarkets are selling this product but its not for me but please make your own mind up , but before you do do a search on Vietnamese River Cobler and see where its farmed for yourself.  
09/02/2012 13:26
how about an article about getting rid of the smell
09/02/2012 12:55

Hey, young people do cook. Don't assume we're all the same.

I know I love preparing meals from scratch, and would much rather have the satisfaction of making a home cooked meal than just putting a plastic tub in a microwave for 5 minutes.

I will definitely be using some of these tips and will be making a fish and chip meal for my family this week. (well maybe not the fish, I'm vegetarian)


Emily, an 18 year old who does know how to make a meal :P

09/02/2012 14:57
A heart attack waiting to happen, trust me I talk through experience unfortunately !!!
09/02/2012 17:36
the food does not look inviting at all!!!!
23/06/2012 09:25
very useful information, but can you give diet  fish and chips, is that possible? 
16/02/2012 12:59
I eat simple well fried fish with onion, ginger-garlic paste, and some of the curry items too. And thats delicious for me. These all outdoor food always look good, but i feel these are not that good for health
23/01/2014 15:27
Some people are blessed with long life and healthy genes.They can also eat anything without any adverse effects on their health. The animal fats to most of the unluckiest people caused  an increase in cholesterol levels and risks of clogging arteries which could lead to Stroke and Heart Attacks especially in the 40s+ age group.
27/02/2012 17:49
'give a man a fish,and he will eat it-give a man a rod,and he will eat fish every day!
26/02/2012 18:55

How about a lesson on fishing first.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?

more on msn food