If there's one thing that the British and Scots have contributed to the culinary world, it's fried foods. This delicious and dubious honor probably started with cooking potatoes in fat and has evolved (some might say "devolved") to dunking anything with batter into boiling oil and calling it a meal. Case in point: the deep fried Mars bar.
While I've never had the opportunity (or is it "misfortune") to try one, I have had a long affinity for that other fried staple of Anglo-cuisine; fish and chips. Give the whole mess a few squirts of malt vinegar, some lemon, maybe tartar sauce and I'll be in a deep fried bliss.
The best fish and chips I've ever had (since I've never been to England) was in the most British city in New Zealand; Christchurch.
There, at a hole-in-the-wall near City Centre, is what the Lonely Planet guide rightfully proclaims as the best and cheapest fish and chips in the Land of the Long White Cloud. The chips were short and stubby; think OreIda but half as lengthy. But unlike OreIda, which has a strange caramel-like hue, the chips I had in Christchurch were uniformly bright golden yellow, with a consistent crisp texture and fluffy interior. And you won't come across a single soggy chip in the pile.
The batter on the fish was cooked to a light brown crust that was lacy and delicate but structurally rigid. Because of the rigidity of the crust, even a liberal soaking of malt vinegar did nothing to alter its solid crunch. Breaking through it revealed a moist and flaky fish. Perfect fry technique also left the product with no residual grease. I relished the experience since I knew I would not find it done quite so properly again in the states.
And I was right.
However, when I have to make do, the "Fish and Fries" at Farmer Boys is a satisfying, albeit, a pale facsimile.
First I have to respect Farmer Boys for not calling their dish "Fish and Chips" because it simply is not. The "chips" that you get are, of course, the same fries that accompany their hamburger. These are standard frozen fries that have a decent texture but a short half-life; they wilt and limp if not eaten hot.
The fish is a whole fillet, probably haddock, dipped in batter before immersion in the fryer, but as with the fries, the crunchy batter surrenders easily to a malt vinegar soaking. The steam from the fish also makes the batter limp if you wait too long before noshing. Also, once in a while, you might get a greasy one.
But for a price point of around $5 (for three generous pieces of fish and a plateful of fries), I still think Farmer Boys does one of the best fish and fries in O.C. Perhaps there's more authentic fish and chips to be found in a local British pub somewhere, but I bet you'll be paying twice as much. Keep in mind that even the best chip shops in London and New Zealand never charge more than $5 per serving.
It is, after all, still deep fried food.
Farmer Boys Tustin
171 E 1st St
Tustin, CA 92780