This week is National Chip Week, so we look back to the earliest days of the nation’s best-loved supper, share some startling facts about the humble chip, and offer advice to protect against the dangers of fire when preparing the nation’s favourite yourself
History doesn’t record if one of the first people to sell fish and chips in the British Isles had a sound business plan – but it’s unlikely. He didn’t even know which country he was in.
Unaware that the ship taking him to America would dock in Ireland on the way, Italian Giuseppe Cervi thought he’d reached America and got off, only to find himself in Cobh. His ship sailed without him, but in a strange way it also came in, because after walking to Dublin he started selling fish and chips.
At first, it was from a handcart outside pubs, and later from a permanent spot in what’s now Pearse Street. It was there, says the National Fish Fryers’ Federation that his wife Palma would offer customers, in Italian, ‘one of this, one of the other’; a phrase that lingers in the city, where customers wanting fish and chips still ask for ‘one and one’.
4 interesting facts about chips
Chip fact 1
The independent fish & chip restaurant of the year in the 2015 awards is Burton Road Chippy in Lincoln
Giuseppe and Palma couldn’t have anticipated National Chip Week any more than they could have anticipated just how popular the meal was to become. The British deep-fried habit is worth £1.2bn to the economy, with £1 of every £100 spent on food going into a fish and chip shop till.
Chip fact 2
A portion of fish and chips has less than half the fat of a tuna mayo sandwich
But with these traditions come traditional dangers. Fish and chips are deep fried in hot fat or oil, and the latter can catch fire very quickly. Once it starts to smoke, it’s getting close to its ignition point, and the heat should be turned down. On no account move the pan when it’s hot – doing so presents a risk of spilling and starting a fire. And if you think a chip pan fire – classed as a Class F Fire – is unlikely, think again: one in five Fire Service calls are as a result of chip pan fires, which injure 4,000 people a year.
Chip fact 3
The British chip appetite needs 676,000 tonnes of potatoes a year to satisfy it
Goodness knows how safe it was for Giuseppe to have pans of hot fat on a cart in the street close to people coming out of pubs at closing time. He’s as likely to have had a fire blanket as he was to have a business plan.
It can’t have been a lot safer to have them in the back of a van either, but that’s exactly what happened when fish and chips became part of the war effort in WW2. The food was never on ration, and vans carrying supper to hungry diners were a common site during the war, proving that the notion of street food is anything but a 21st century invention – and turning every wartime week into National Chip Week.
Chip fact 4
Potatoes for chips in Britain are grown on enough land to accommodate almost 20,000 football pitches
Some chip frying do’s and dont’s
• Dry food before putting it into the pan; moisture will cause the oil to bubble and spit
• Keep the temperature under control
• Put the food into the pan slowly to avoid splashing
• If a fire starts, smother the flames with a damp tea towel, or better still a purpose-made fire retardant fire blanket – quite possibly the lowest cost fire fighting technology available
• Have a kitchen fire extinguisher. Not all fire extinguishers are the same; for example, a water filled extinguisher will make the fire worse. The type you need are wet chemical fire extinguishers
• Overfill the pan with fat or oil. You need room for the food too
• Leave a pan unattended on the heat
• Put water on the fire. Water on a chip pan fire will just spread the burning oil and make matters worse
• Cook chips when you’ve been drinking. Alcohol and hot oil are bad in any combination, and the risks just grow when you’ve had a few
Three real chip shop names that made us smile
• The Frying Scotsman
• Battersea Cod’s Home
View our advice page and video on wet chemical fire extinguishers for more information on the applications and advantages of this type of extinguisher.