While the British may have originated the dish, they did not perfect it.
Before you go and tell me I have never experienced true British fish and chip, realize I lived for three years in England, with fish & chips available everywhere.
I tried little shops in fishing ports and beach-side resort towns, I had fish and chips in pubs and from London street vendors. I went out of my way for the proper dish, one of my favorites since I was very young.
My regular stop was an itinerant truck that set up each week on a roadside pullout just north of the air base I was assigned to. Buying his fish each morning in King’s Lynn, each day he set up in a regular spot. Thursday’s were my fish and chips day, when I would stop on the way home for a newspaper wrapped portion.
North sea cod was the usual, but I tried sole and whatever else he had. The grease soaked through the newspaper and the whole car would smell of goodness on the drive home.
While British fish and chips is good, there is better. The world has taken this quintessential British dish and improved upon it immensely.
The first issue? The classic English choice of cod is not the best option for the fish to be found under that batter. The world’s oceans offer better fare.
Here in Hawaii the choice for fish and chips is ono, offering a lightly flavored, white meat that is much less oily than cod. Called wahoo by much of the world, the Hawaiian word ono is synonymous for “good to eat” so desirable is the flavor.
Along the Pacific coast the even better choice is Pacific halibut. Again the fish is a lightly flavored white meat with very little oil. Both halibut and ono provide the perfect base for exquisite fish and chips.
The batter is also critical. While some prefer a simple flour and water batter, my preference is for a beer batter, the carbonation and flavor of the beer creating a flakier, lighter batter. Of course the choice of oil is also critical.
The final issue I need to raise is the insistence of malt vinegar as the proper splash on top of the fish. With the heavy flavor of cod I might understand this addition. For better fish, you need a lightly flavored sauce that adds to the dish, not to cover up a heavy fishy flavor. Creative tartar sauces, aioli, tzatziki, and similar sauces are a better choice.
After writing this I am really going to have to find a good portion of fish and chips to deal with my watering mouth. Fortunately I have several choices to choose from nearby… I will have the ono please!