A pile of steaming chips and a perfectly battered piece of fish wrapped in paper: as comforting and delicious on dark Friday nights in winter, as on long light summer evenings by the sea. We speak to Calum Richardson, of the award-winning Bay Fish and Chip Shop in Stonehaven, about what gives this centuries-old dish such a special place in the nation’s hearts. (And why he’ll never sell a battered Mars Bar…)
Did you always plan to own and run a chip shop?
I grew up in Stonehaven and when I was at school I decided I wanted to be a chef. I took myself down to the Royal Navy recruiting office to sign up as a chef, and ended up as an engineer! After a few years with the navy, I found an opening to leave to run a fish and chip shop. I took my opportunity and I was there for six years. In 2006, my wife Lindsay and I took over the Bay, on the shoreside in Stonehaven.
Where do you source your produce from?
Most of our fish comes from the market at Peterhead. We only buy what’s in season, so instead of going to market with a list of what we want, we buy what’s available from the catch, so that we’re only serving fish according to what’s in season. At the moment that means we’ve got hake, scallops and coley, and lemon sole and john dory are both just beginning to come into season too. I like to give people the chance to try something new other than cod, so I’ll cook up a piece and let customers taste any fish they don’t know to encourage them to be more adventurous.
You won the National Fish and Chip Awards this year for the first time – what do you think is the secret to your success?
The queue tells the story. Every day people queue up the length of the street for our food. I believe that if you put two shops next to each other serving identical food, cooked identically, with identical menus, but one where the food is local and sustainably sourced, and the other where it’s not, people are going to choose the shop that supports the grassroots local economy. It’s one of the ways and means we have of looking out for each other.
What difference does making sure your fish is ethically sourced add to your menu?
Our potatoes are organic, our haddock is traceable from the sea to the plate and we make sure we source all our fish responsibly. The result is we’ve won quote a lot of awards! As well as winning this year’s National Fish and Chip Awards, the Sustainable Restaurant Association has recognised us as champions of local sourcing because all the food we serve comes from less than 50 miles away. We’re also a Blue Fish restaurant, we’ve won awards for environmental sustainability at the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards, we won a Good Catch Award and so on… It makes sense that if the fishermen who caught the fish, and the farmers who grow the potatoes, take care and pride in sustainability, health and safety, and the handling of their produce, what they sell is going to be good quality.
Where did the drive towards sustainability come from?
When we took over The Bay we started working with sustainability in mind, even though the majority of the public weren’t aware of the issues at that time. We’re right on the shorefront so we’ve got to look at what’s happening out there. Now it’s quite trendy to be sustainable, but we’ve always been heavy on it. You can’t get more sustainable than Marine Stewardship Council accreditation and we’re the first fish and chip shop in the UK to gain MSC chain of custody to sell Scottish North Sea haddock on our menu.
Stonehaven is where the battered Mars Bar was invented. Do you think deep fried food will ever have a good reputation?
I’m so tired of the Mars Bar story! It was twenty years ago, and has nothing to do with fish and chips. I’ve never sold a battered Mars Bar and never will. When you use good fish and potatoes, fish and chips is a nutritious meal and a great traditional British classic.
So, what does your perfect plate of fish and chips look like?
Interestingly, people’s fish and chip preferences vary from region to region, but what I like is a golden chip, cut thick, crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle. Whatever fish is in season is fine, but it’s got to be cooked from fresh not frozen, and the batter can’t be orange – I spent a year learning how to make a good natural batter with no colours or flavourings added – with a bit of lift.
And no tomato ketchup for me; I like straightforward salt and vinegar on my chips, and a bit of tartar sauce on the side to go with the fish. With a bottle of ginger beer to wash it down: that’s the real experience.
CALUM’S TOP TIPS FOR PERFECT FISH AND CHIPS …
- Use a cold thin batter to batter your fish.
- Don’t use frozen fish – the best fish is fresh, sustainable and local.
- The best chips are made with good British potatoes with a dry matter content of around 22 per cent.
- Use beef dripping at 180 degrees C to cook in as it’s sustainable and a byproduct.
- Don’t overload on the oil or you’ll get soggy chips and soggy batter.
Read the piece as it appeared on flavourfirst.org here