Traditional Fish and Chips – It’s time for a change…

Fish and chips (10 of 10)

Ahhh….. How the passage of time alters our perception of reality. We look backwards through grease splattered glasses and see ourselves biting through crunchy, crispy batter into flavoursome, chunky, freshly caught cod. This fishy delight accompanied by the most delicious ‘crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside’ potato chips. This wonderful serving enjoyed every Friday in Holy Catholic Ireland by God fearing, clean living, cap doffing, hopeful people, who paid only one and sixpence to feed the entire family.

Was it ever thus? Or, has the ticking of the clock shifted the focus on the lens of reality? Why are so many chippers today serving such poor food? Like defrosted, grey fish, of dubious origin, encased in stodgy batter ,served with a ‘smaller than I remember’ bag of greasy chips. The average family needing appropriate paperwork and bank approval to afford a serving. Where has it all gone wrong? Why do we put up with these standards?

“It hasn’t gone wrong”, you say. “What about the Borza in Tallaght Village or the one in Dalkey or Macari’s in Churchtown, or any one of the better chippers around the country?” OK, I’ll give you that. A good number of the chippers in Ireland have maintained a high standard. But, sadly many have not.

Side note on vested interest: For clarity, I’ve done a good deal of work over the years with the Irish Traditional Italian Chippers Association, so I know better than most how the best maintain standards. But, the best are not the rest.

This got me to thinking how one could prepare non traditional fish and chips and perhaps show some of the lazy grease-vendors that higher quality is the way forward. It certainly is the future around these parts. Global cod stocks are under enormous pressure. We can ease that pressure by eating some other fish and giving the cod a chance. So, for my Future Focussed Fish and Chips, I used the plentiful and delicious Hake. The humble potato is not under any imminent threat of extinction, but I decided to cook some Herbed Parmesan and Polenta Chips, for a bit of difference

My ingredients for two people are as follows:

  • 2 fresh hake fillets
  • A few pinches of sea spice (dried seaweed to you)
  • 160 grammes of polenta and half a litre of water
  • A big handful of coriander (cilantro) including soft stalks
  • A big handful of parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and black pepper to season

The polenta chips take a little time but they are worth it. Slice the coriander and grate the parmesan. Make the polenta by salting the water, bringing it to the boil and slowly adding the polenta, stirring all the time.

Don't lob it all in. It will set in a lump. Trust me, I know.

Don’t lob it all in. It will set in a lump. Trust me, I know.

When it’s cooked (this timing varies from polenta to polenta), add the cheese and herb. Stir to incorporate.

Looking and smelling pretty tasty.

Looking and smelling pretty tasty.

Line a 20cm (8 inch) square baking dish with cling film and pour in the polenta. Flatten it as best you can.

This sets very quickly. Though, it stays hot for ages.

This sets very quickly. Though, it stays hot for ages.

Let it set and cool completely. Turn it out and slice it into chunky chip shapes.

Too much work for the average grease-trap? Probably.

Too much work for the average grease-trap? Probably.

Place the chips on a lightly greased baking tray and add a little olive oil to get a crispy edge.

Fish and chips (8 of 10)

Polenta chips with parmesan have polenty of flavour too!

Bake in a hot fan oven until they get nice and crispy. Turn as needed. The whole oven process will take 30 minutes or so. The fish is simple to prepare. Sprinkle it with the sea spice and season.

Lovely fresh hake, seasoned and 'spiced'.

Lovely fresh hake, seasoned and ‘spiced’.

If you are lucky enough to have a home sous vide device, vacuum seal the fish with a little butter, and cook it for 30 minutes at 54ºC (134ºF).

Delicate fish doesn't take long to cook.

Delicate fish doesn’t take long to cook.

If you don’t have the boil in the bag device, Heat a frying pan to medium and place the fish on skin side down for a few minutes. Watch the colour change to completely opaque then take it off and let it rest for a couple of minutes.

Serve the fish with the chips. Add a nice slice of lime for a quality feel and excellent flavour.

How to save the takeaway standards of a nation.....

How to save the takeaway standards of a nation…..

Let’s face it. You will never get something as good as this in a takeaway. But, if you cook this for yourself, you will visit the takeaway less often. This will potentially have one of two commercial effects;

Potential effect 1.

You and thousands like you will abandon the chipper in favour of my concoction. The badly run chippers (with the too old oil, soggy chips and flaccid fish) will go bust. That will leave only the better, more progressive outlets. That’s a win.

Potential effect 2.

Some inventive and progressive chipper owners will read this and, instead of hunting me down and leaving a fish head in my bed, they will take the lessons on board and try some progressive, modern takes on the traditional. You and thousands like you will abandon the chipper mentioned in ‘Potential effect 1’ in favour of their more progressive counterparts. They will flourish and the badly run chippers (with the too old oil, soggy chips and flaccid fish) will go bust. That will leave only the better, more progressive outlets. That’s a win too.

Can you see where this is going? If you cook this for yourself, you will be part of a movement that will be thanked for raising the dining standards of a nation. Either that, or you could just go to the chipper… Enjoy that.



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Latest comments
  • So…. that nice glass of white was solely (lame fish pun) for the purpose of chef irrigation? Love the idea of polenta chips… Lately, I’ve been mourning my inability to safely eat fish & chips, to the extent that I’ve spent unfeasible amounts of time battering and frying things. Today’s offering was sweetcorn and sharp Cheddar fritters with diced red pepper and a big shake of dried chilli in the batter. Pretty bloody good, but not as good as your chips, I suggest.

    • Chef irrigation is the most important part of it Kate. I have missed you over the past couple of weeks while I sorted out my blog and got back in shape. I love the idea of the chilli in the batter. I must steal that and adopt it as my own invention!

  • I’ve been cooking things sous vide for a while now and when it comes to fish I’ve learned not use my vacuum sealer. All that pressure usually squidges the fish, making it soft and pulpy and ruining the flakiness. I now always use the water displacement method for closing the bag and I’ll use either a ziplock bag, submerging it just to the seal before closing, or a normal vacuum sealer bag, submerging it as far as I can before clipping it to the rack in the water bath.

    • Interesting, I haven’t noticed any adverse effect from the vacuum sealer on the various pieces of fish I have been cooking over the past year and a half (the SV was a Christmas present in ’14). Having said that, I must give the water displacement method a go. I was with a friend who has got himself a chamber sealer. Very cool piece of kit but totally over the top for what I get up to.

      • I suppose it might depend on how strong the vacuum sealer is, and I expect previously frozen fish is more prone to this that the gorgeous fresh fish I suspect you use all the time! I eat it a lot and hunting down good fresh fish in Yorkshire Is time consuming and expensive, sadly.

        I have to confess that I’ve just bought a chamber vacuum sealer and I’m expecting delivery any day now. It’s undoubtedly OTT, but I can’t wait to watch it pulling all the air out of liquids in which I don’t want bubbles 🙂 Also makes sealing said liquids a doddle! I’m sure I can come up with other reasons to justify the outlay….give me a few moments…..

  • I’m with you one the hake, it’s a lovely fish and most of it fished around Ireland and the UK goes to Spain because we are not very interested. The polenta chips look good too, but I don’t think that I’d replace the potato chip with them permanently. Sadly, I think the price of fish has something to do with the demise of the chip shop. people are selling poor quality fish because not everyone can afford the price of the really fresh stuff. In days gone by fish was nearly as cheap as chips, whereas now it’s a luxury.
    I recently read a very good book called Cod, which explains how we managed to completely over fish an abundant fish that doesn’t even struggle when caught with a rod and line.

      • It’s depressing, but a very interesting read. There were more cod in the sea than you could possibly catch until the 20th century. Sadly I don’t think fish will be on the menu for many more decades 🙁

  • Ahhhhhh yes, the weekly fish n’ chip event (Sunday night in our household) – such a strong memory of my childhood. I remember doing the collection with Mum and holding the hot, aromatic parcel under my sweater to keep it warm and then smelling like hot chips (which, as a kid, was entirely acceptable).

    Love your updated version!

  • Great looking dish Conor!

  • Wow that is quite a stunning plate of fish and chips! I prefer hake to cod anyway so I’m clearly a peasant 🙂
    I’m working on a polenta chips recipe too but I might just scratch that and go with yours, they look great. I’m also a fan of cutting it into wedges and cooking it off on a griddle pan for some nice scorch marks.

  • Lovely looking dish, Conor. I’m definitely going to make this, with a different fish of course, given what is available this side of the globe. Site layout’s looking fresh and fab too 🙂

  • “…polenty of flavor…”, how “corny”! Looking seriously tasty. I like the Jenga-style chip presentation, as well.

  • Oh lovely – really like the “future focused fish and chips” 🙂 and the new-look blog.

  • The book Cod, fascinating and depressing. Love me some polenta and you are a one-man ‘chippy activist.’ (Should we expect to see photos of you tieing yourself to greasy fish ‘n’ chip joints in your bid for change?)

  • Found you!! Never mind your posts have refused to travel ‘areas of danger’ for quite some time to get here – you seem to be back and my resubscription actually seems to have worked . . . and there I was thinking you were having a wonderful French holiday . . . Now I have not indulged in ‘fish & chips’ for quite awhile: BUT love these polenta ones and not just with fish . . . oh, and like that very smart plating also 🙂 !!!

  • The fish looks lovely but that polenta and those chips are calling my name! I think I’d have to double the batch and serve polenta for dinner and then the chips the next night! Crave worthy!!


  • Yum! This looks great!

  • This is the way to update and improve a dish, Conor. I’d take your polenta chips over those made with potatoes any day.

  • I ma sure the hake was delish, but by God Conor, those polenta chips have me drooling. I’m a huge fan of both polenta and cilantro. Well done!

  • Hi, Fab blog! I am still in the very early stages – 5 months old. Just making efforts to link in with fellow bloggers to improve our followers and get the word out there for us both. I would appreciate you having a peek at my blog, as I have published several posts. Feel free to like, comment, follow or just take a peek. Thank you 🙂

  • Conor, this is so deliciously healthy that I lost 2 pounds just by reading it. I’m off now to the pub to rectify the unhealthy balance with serious intentions of getting acquainted with polenta tomorrow. Congratulations on your listing in the Blog Awards. If you don’t win, I’ll eat my hake.

  • Had a bit of a disaster with the polenta chips far too gooey to be palatable. Ironically ended up down the chipper in an emergency. The irony is not lost on me.

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