Atlantic cod, along with the likes of plaice and haddock, is one of the most popular fish types used in the preparation of the United Kingdom's unofficial national dish, fish and chips. While there was a major scare re cod stocks in UK waters for a time and consumers were being encouraged to choose more sustainable fish types for their table, evidence suggests that stock levels are improving and that cod can once again in good conscience be selected in the preparation of the dish.

Beer Battered Cod and Chips
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Beer battered cod and chips is served with tartar sauce and lemon wedges

In many instances, fish and chips will be bought from dedicated fish and chip outlets or other fast food restaurants, though many people do choose to buy their white fish fillets from fishmongers or supermarkets and prepare the meal at home. In this instance, as I actually caught the small codling I cooked here, I had to start by cleaning, filleting and skinning the fish.

Fresh;y Caught Codling
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Freshly caught Atlantic codling

Ingredients (Serves 1)

  • 1 large starchy/floury potato (baking potato is perfect)
  • Salt
  • 1 small codling (2 to 3 pounds) or skinned fillets from same
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) self-rising (self-raising) flour
  • Ice cold beer as required
  • 1 tablespoon tartar sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped curly leaf parsley plus optional sprig to garnish
  • Malt vinegar
  • 2 fresh lemon wedges to garnish


If you intend following a food recipe which requires lengthy preparation time, planning ahead is likely to be of great assistance and benefit, particularly where much of the preparation is hands off and you are not actually required to be present. When I go on one day sea fishing trips, it often involves leaving the house at 5am or even earlier, with an expected return time of mid to late evening. The last thing I want to do when I return home exhausted, with salt encrusted tackle to hose down and myself to clean up, is spend more time than necessary cooking my anticipated catch for a much needed meal. It is for precisely this reason I broke the back of my chip preparation the night before this relevant trip took place and had the chips in the fridge ready for a mere final quick fry to accompany the fish I was hoping to catch.

Preparing to Parboil Chipped Potatoes
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Preparing to parboil chipped potatoes

Peel, slice and chop the potato in to chip shapes. British chips are significantly largely than French fries and a good guide is that each one should be about the size of an average man's middle finger, give or take a little bit. Put the chips in to a big pot or bowl of cold water and let them steep for up to ten minutes to get rid of some of the excess starch. Drain, put them in to a big pot of cold, salted water and bring to a simmer for about five minutes. Drain once again, leave to steam off and put them in to a plastic dish and in to the fridge for at least half an hour.

Parboiled Chips Ready for the Fridge
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Parboiled chips are ready for the fridge

Heat up your deep fryer or a deep pan of oil to a medium to high heat and deep fry the chips for four minutes or so. Drain on a plate covered with kitchen paper, allow to cool and return them to the fridge in the plastic dish. They need a minimum further half hour in the fridge but can be left for up to a couple of days and in this instance were ready for easy preparation the following evening with the fish.

The codling was gutted immediately after it was caught and humanely dispatched. This helps to slow down the decay process and keep the fish in pristine condition for longer. In order to fillet it, you will require a large chopping board and a dedicated fish filleting knife.

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Removing Cod's head
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Starting to remove the head from the codling

Lay the cod on one side with its head nearer your weaker hand. Hold the head with your weaker hand while you make a deep, semi-circular cut around the head with your filleting knife, immediately behind the pectoral fin and right through to the backbone. Turn the fish over and do exactly the same thing on its second side.

Head Removed from Cod
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

The cod's head is removed prior to filleting

In order to remove the head completely, turn the fish on to its back and cut down through the spine to sever.

Fins Removed from Cod
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Kitchen scissors are best used to snip the fins from the codling

The fish is a little bit easier to fillet if you next snip off the fins from the spine and the belly. A pair of kitchen scissors are best used to complete this task.

Starting to Remove First Cod Fillet
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Starting to remove the first fillet from the cod

Turn the codling on to its belly and make sure you hold it steady on the board. Start cutting at what was the head end and make a series of cuts/slits immediately to the near side of the spine, moving the knife in one direction only, towards the tail. Keep cutting down until you feel the resistance provided by the ribcage.

First Fillet Removed from Codling
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

The first fillet is cut from the fish and lifted free

Approximately half way along the fish, the rib cage bone will end. At this point, turn the fish on the board on to its side that its backbone is nearest you and the fillet you are cutting is on the top. You will now be able to slice right through to the belly and out the other side. Cut through the skin over the bottom of the ribcage and lift the first fillet up and away.

Removing Second Cod Fillet
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Removing the second fillet from the codling

Follow the exact same procedures to remove the second fillet from the fish. Note that the head and main bones of the codling are excellent for making fresh fish stock which can be stored in your deep freeze for up to three months.

Skinning a Cod Fillet
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Skinning the first fillet

The fillets should now be skinned. While this procedure may sound and even appear difficult, you will probably be surprised by how easy it actually is, especially with a thick skinned fish like cod and provided of course you are using a proper filleting knife.

Lay the fillet skin side down on your chopping board with the pointed tail end nearest your weaker hand. Pinch the fillet tightly, as close to the tail end as you can, between the thumb and forefinger of your weaker hand. Make a small nick as close to your fingers as possible but with the blade of the knife facing away at a forty-five degree angle, through the flesh but not the skin. Twist the knife that it is almost flat and facing the tail. Move the knife backwards and forwards as you pull the skin gently but firmly away from the knife.

Skinned Cod Fillet
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Skinned fillet is ready to be cooked

The knife should cut cleanly through the flesh and over the skin until you have separated the two.

I was cooking in a deep frying pan of oil so didn't have room to fry the cod and chips together. What I did therefore was start by putting an ovenproof dish in to my oven at its lowest setting to preheat and ultimately keep the cooked cod warm while the chips were fried.

Preparing Beer Batter
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Preparing the beer batter for the fish

This dish is actually intended for storing bacon in the fridge but it's the perfect size and shape for battering most fish fillets. Start by spooning in the flour and seasoning it with some salt. Very slowly, start pouring in the ice cold beer as you whisk with a fork until you have a batter the consistency of fairly thick cream. Don't worry if you have a few small lumps in it - it really doesn't matter and won't be noticeable in the cooked fish.

Fish Fillet Dipped in Batter
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Skinned fish fillet is dipped in beer batter

Bring the oil in your pan or deep fat fryer up to a fairly high heat. Take the first fish fillet and draw it through the batter to evenly coat. Hold it up for a second or two for the excess to drip off before laying it very carefully and away from your body in to the hot oil. Immediately do likewise with the second fillet. 

Deep Frying Battered Fish
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Deep frying battered fish fillets

Fillets like this will take around six minutes to cook. Turn the fillets in the oil with a metal slotted spoon after about three minutes. When the batter has turned a rich golden color, the fillets are ready.

Deep Fried Cod Fillets
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Deep fried cod fillets

Wearing oven protecting gloves, lift the holding dish from the oven. Lift one fillet from the oil at a time with your slotted spoon, holding them over the oil for a few seconds to drain. Lay them in the heated dish and return the dish to the oven.

Draining Chips on Kitchen Paper
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Chips are drained on kitchen paper

The chips should now be deep fried in the oil for about four to five minutes until they too are crisp and golden. They should be drained on a plate covered with kitchen paper for a couple of minutes.

Chips are Plated
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Chips are plated and seasoned with salt and vinegar

I received this attractive plate as a gift a few years back and it is of course perfect for serving above all fish and chips. I began by plating the chips and seasoning them with salt and vinegar.

Tucking in to Cod and Chips
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Tucking in to cod and chips

The fish fillets were taken from the oven and laid on top of the chips. They were also seasoned with salt and vinegar. The chopped parsley was stirred in to the tartar sauce in a small bowl before being spooned on to the tail end of the plate. The parsley sprigs and lemon wedges were added last of all, with the lemon wedges being squeezed over the fish just before it was eaten.