[mouthwatering review + recipe] The Fabulous Tale of Fish & Chips by Helaine Becker and Omer Hoffmann

“Fish ‘n’ chips!
Chips ‘n’ fish!
Such a crispy, tasty dish!”

It wasn’t until I moved to London in the late 70s that I tasted authentic fish ‘n’ chips for the first time.

Whether cod and chips from a neighborhood chippy, or a plate of divine lemon sole at Geale’s in Notting Hill, it was all so good. Nothing could compare to those golden brown fillets, fried up light and crispy in a beer batter, each crunchy bite yielding to tender, flaky fish inside. Is there any meal more quintessentially British?

Naturally, I assumed fish ‘n’ chips was invented by an Englishman. But after reading The Fabulous Tale of Fish & Chips by Helaine Becker and Omer Hoffmann (Green Bean Books, 2021), I surprisingly learned it was a Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin who opened the very first fish ‘n’ chips shop in the UK. Established in 1860, Malin’s of Bow in London’s East End remained in operation for over a century. Now that’s a lot of fish and taters!

In her flavorful fishtory, Becker surmises how fish met chips to become “one of the greatest and most popular dishes of all time.”

Young Joseph Malin loves everything about fish — catching, selling, and especially, eating it. Though his entire family works from dawn to dusk in their fish shop, they struggle to make ends meet. 

One day Joseph has a brilliant idea — what if they try to sell cooked instead of raw fish? After all, he loves his grandmother’s delicious fried fish — a special family recipe handed down through several generations. Her secret is coating the fish in flour, dipping it in beaten egg, then coating it with matzoh meal before frying it in hot oil. 

Because of its crispy crust, the fried fish is just as tasty the next day when families like Joseph’s, who are forbidden to cook on the Sabbath, can eat it cold.

Joseph’s grandma likes his idea, so the next morning, she makes several trays of her fried fish for Joseph to sell at the marketplace.

“Fresh from the ship!”
Hot ‘n’ tasty fried fish!”

It isn’t long before word spreads about Joseph’s fried fish. Customers flock from far and wide to buy it. 

“Yum!” they whooped.
“Scrumptious!
Galumptious!”

Customers can’t get enough and Joseph works hard to keep up with the demand. His family is thrilled with his success, and his grandmother even buys him a new pushcart to make it easier to transport the fish to the marketplace.

Not everyone is happy about this, however. The Malins’ neighbor Annette is upset because she’s losing customers who rush past her vegetable stall to get at Joseph’s fried fish.

Acknowledging Joseph’s fried fish smells good, she comes up with her own idea — what if she sells fried potatoes — just the way her grandmother had taught her?

You can guess what happens next. Annette’s fried potatoes (“savoury, flavoury!”) are a big hit, and soon customers are rushing by Joseph to get to Annette. A fierce rivalry ensues as both Joseph and Annette shout even louder to draw customers. Not looking where they’re going, they run right into each other. Disaster!

Chips flipped.
Fish flew.

Joseph and Annette argue and scream while a crowd gathers round, helping themselves to “both fish and chips.”

When they finally stop arguing, Joseph and Annette notice how much everyone loves eating fish and chips together, spawning a truly fabulous idea.

From then on, they sold their food side by side, as one scrumptious, galumptious, savoury, flavoury dish.

Kids will love Becker’s sprightly text and appreciate Joseph’s and Annette’s enterprising spirits. Though we’ll never truly know precisely how fish and chips came together (both fried fish and Belgian-style fried potatoes were being sold separately for decades before Malin opened his shop), we do know this working class staple turned British icon is a favorite take-away around the world. 

Omer Hoffmann joyously brings this fun and fabulous tale to vivid life with his detailed, emotive, high energy illustrations. He effectively depicts the hustle and bustle of 19th century London dock culture; you can almost hear the vendors hawking their goods and haggling with customers in the marketplace, the sheep bleating, the chickens squawking. His visual narrative infuses the story with good helpings of verve and humor.

Full bleed spreads alternate with spot illos to keep the action moving at a good clip, as we watch grandma making her famous fish recipe, Joseph interacting with customers, Annette trotting out her fried potatoes in paper cones, and of course, the big crash.

The pages are populated with a lively cast of characters whom readers will enjoy studying as they’re all up to something.

Also love the facial expressions and sometimes wild gesticulations — all drawing readers right into the middle of the action. Especially amusing is seeing those closed-eye expressions of sheer bliss on customers’ faces as they devour their food. With all the open mouth anticipation, chop licking, and enthusiastic nibbling, readers cannot help but crave, big time, their own ration of fish ‘n’ chips.

In her Author’s Note, Becker explains how Spanish Jews fleeing the inquisition first brought their traditional Sabbath dish, pescado frito, to northern Europe in the fifteenth century. She also mentions how French and Belgian women are credited with being the first to fry potatoes in hot oil (hence the name, ‘french fries’). Today, the UK boasts over 10,500 fish ‘n’ chips shops, with thousands more around the globe.

This tasty origin tale, which shows how two immigrant cultures joined forces to good end, is a nod to the values of hard work, acceptance, and cooperation.

Salt and vinegar or lemon and tartar sauce?

*

🐟 Marvelous Matzah! 🥔

After reading this story, everyone in the Alphabet Soup kitchen was curious about Joseph’s grandmother’s recipe. We’d never made or eaten fish fried with a matzah meal breading before. Luckily, Helaine included her family’s recipe in the back of the book, so we eagerly gave it a try.

We had to go to two grocery stores to find the matzah meal, not because it’s an uncommon ingredient, but because of pandemic shortages. We had everything else on hand and enjoyed following the simple directions.

We used fresh haddock fillets and a combination of canola and olive oil. We thought of Joseph and Annette while we happily devoured our fish ‘n’ chips for dinner. And yes, the leftover fish tasted great cold the next day.

Young readers will likely enjoy making this recipe (with adult supervision of course). They’ll have fun imagining what it would have been like exploring a busy 19th century London marketplace and buying fish ‘n’ chips from a street vendor. 

Fried Fish in the Jewish Fashion

  • Servings: six
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 6 meaty white fish fillets — cod, haddock, or halibut
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 cup (250 ml) matzah meal or breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • canola or sunflower oil

Directions

  1. Pour the matzah meal onto a shallow bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Mix thoroughly with your fingers.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a fork.
  3. Place the fillet in the matzah meal, lightly coating both sides.
  4. Swirl the coated fillet in the egg mixture until it is thoroughly moistened. Let the excess drip off.
  5. Return the eggy fish to the matzah meal, covering both sides. (Avoid touching with your fingers; the coating will come off the fish.)
  6. Repeat for all the remaining fillets.
  7. Put oil in the pan to a depth of 1/4-inch. (Don’t skimp or your fish will stick and burn!)
  8. Heat the oil until it is hot enough for a drop of matzah meal coating to sizzle and dance in the pan. Add the fish to the pan, being careful to keep the fillets separate.
  9. Fry the fillets on a medium-high heat until the underside is golden and crisp. Move the fish as little as possible during the cooking.
  10. Flip the fish over. Keep frying until the other side is golden brown and the fish is cooked through.
  11. Drain the cooked fish on plenty of paper towels or brown paper. Serve at once or refrigerate to eat cold the next day.
~ Adapted from Helaine Becker’s recipe in The Fabulous Tale of Fish & Chips (Green Bean Books, 2021), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

*

THE FABULOUS TALE OF FISH & CHIPS
written by Helaine Becker
illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
published by Green Bean Books, November 2021
Historical Fiction Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note and Recipe for Fried Fish in the Jewish Fashion

♥️ Enjoy this video of Helaine discussing the book:

*


*Interior spreads text copyright © 2021 Helaine Becker, illustrations © 2021 Omer Hoffmann, published by Green Bean Books. All rights reserved.

**This post contains Amazon and Bookshop Affiliate links. When you purchase a book using either link, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!

***Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

20 thoughts on “[mouthwatering review + recipe] The Fabulous Tale of Fish & Chips by Helaine Becker and Omer Hoffmann

  1. Wow! “over 10,500 fish ‘n’ chips shops” & I’ve never been to one, sad to say! But I do order fish ‘n’ chips at a local restaurant & it’s good! Thanks for sharing about this book, Jama. It’s fascinating to read about the origins of popular things & the illustrations are really “tasty”! I’m happy to see your own meal, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yum, fresh halibut! Nothing better than fresh caught. I also remember having some very good fish in Portland, Maine. Not fried in batter but so good. The recipe posted here using matzah meal is easy to make, and the breading doesn’t get soggy/greasy the next day when eaten cold.

      Like

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.