Grace Dent’s review

Grace Dent reviewed Angel Lane Chippie in Penrith, describing it as a “shining example of British brilliance.” She praises the atmosphere which evokes feelings of nostalgia, bringing Grace back to British chippies in the 1970s when she “struggled on tiptoes to see into the cabinet.” She also seems very pleased with Angel Lane’s cod, “which is always curly, firm-fleshed and clogged with extra globs of thick batter.”

A man criticizes

Enter Twitter and a response by one man who claims that the batter should be thrown away, not eaten. His tweet reads: “You. Eat. The. Batter? The batter is there to protect the fish during frying, you peel it off, throw it away, then eat the fish! If you bake a fish (or indeed a vegetable) in a salt crust, do you eat that too?” Grace’s response? “This comment has kept me awake. I. I just. What.”

The history of fish and chips

The tradition of fish and chips came about as an amalgamation of immigrant food, much like many other greatly loved dishes all over the world (think American hot dog, Indian-British Tikka Masala, or Turkish-German döner kebab).

When Jewish refugees emigrated from Portugal and Spain during the 16th century, they brought one of their native dishes with them. It was a dish very similar to today’s pescaito frito, literally “fried fish,” that was prepared for Shabbat dinner on Friday evenings and often eaten cold the following afternoon.

Eating this fried fish cold required a superior batter to protect it from spoiling and the fat from penetrating the fish. Some believe that this is how fish was prepared even before the Jewish immigrants arrived, with the batter acting only as a preservative that would be thrown away.

Over time, this Jewish tradition morphed into a national dish of battered fish and chips that was served, fat dripping, in a wrapping of a newspaper.

Fish and chips developed over centuries into the dish we crave and love today. Despite Grace Dent’s position as a food critic and fountain of knowledge, it’s not surprising she would not have heard of that time when the batter was considered purely functional. The batter is surely the best part about fish and chips, so it’s a stretch to imagine such a possibility.