Cooking Class: The Pub Chip Shop’s English Fish & Chip Batter and Mushy Peas
Pittsburgh and London have one very important culinary preference in common: a great affinity for fish — the fish sandwich, in particular.
The Pub Chip Shop on the South Side, which opened earlier this year adjacent to its sister establishment, Piper’s Pub, features fish and chips.
“I opened a restaurant that I thought would go well in the neighborhood. The neighbors like that,” says Drew Topping of Regent Square, owner of both restaurants.
The difference between the two is that the Pub Chip Shop is what the British call “a take-away” eatery. Piper’s is a pub, which Topping opened in 1999 in honor of his Scottish grandfather.
In the high season of fish on Fridays, plenty of folks like to order their fish sandwiches out. So, it’s no surprise that earlier this year, “Lent was pretty brutal,” says Mindy Heisler, general manager of both locations.
The Pub Chip Shop sells its specialty, Fish and Chips, with haddock dipped in the house beer batter with chips (fries) for $8, as well as Banger (two sausages) and Chips, for $7.
Munchies include Beer-Battered ‘Shrooms with ranch dip for $5 and a Scotch Egg — a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded and fried — with Bloody Hot Sauce for $4.
The Chip Shop provides a few fusion choices, such as Thai Chili Fried Chicken Tacos for $5 and Thai Chili Fried Chicken Boxty Tot Box with the aforementioned chicken, Thai Chili Sauce, Napa cabbage and green onion, for $7. Boxty are traditional Irish potato pancakes.
“We took the boxty mix and made them into tots. They’re the best potato tots,” Heisler says.
That’s not to say the restaurant uses a mix.
“We bring in two things, ice cream and puff pastry. Other than that, everything is produced and created by us,” Heisler says, including the sausages.
“My overall food philosophy: Make food out of food, and make it tasty,” Topping says.
The bakery makes a variety of savory pies for $6, such as Steak and Ale, Seafood and Chicken and Mushroom, while pasties, a traditional English pastry of savory ingredients, include the traditional Cornish pasty with chopped sirloin, potato and rutabaga, for $7.
Sweets include Grandma’s Apple Pie for $5 and a Fried Mars Bar for $4.
On a rack, baps cool from the oven. Baps are soft, buttery Scottish sandwich rolls on which everything from fish ($7) to chicken ($6) rests.
The Pub Chip Shop is a sea change from the fine dining Heisler studied and worked in for years. She graduated from the former Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts, later Le Cordon Bleu, in Pittsburgh. She was executive sous chef at Valhalla and worked at Sweetwater Flatbread Co. and was sous chef at Isabella on Grandview and other restaurants before landing in the world of pub food.
“I prefer this,” Heisler says of the Pub Chip Shop. “Fine dining is 18 hours of work for four to six hours of service. “This is just hit the gas from start to finish. I like the customers at this level, as well. I get to hang around with awesome customers at the bar.”
Many customers order takeout at the Pub Chip Shop, but some hang around to eat while sitting at some of the dozen or so barstools inside.
Heisler describes Piper’s Pub as “the older, responsible sibling … We (Pub Chip) are the obnoxious little brother who drinks too much and is really fun at parties.”
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
English Fish & Chip Batter
Fish and chips are a mainstay of British fast food. One of the secrets to getting a tasty fish dish or fish sandwich are making sure the oil is hot, says Mindy Heisler, general manager of The Pub Chip Shop and Piper’s Pub, associated businesses on the South Side.
“If your food is greasy, that means it wasn’t fried in hot oil,” she says. “Heat seals it in.”
The Pub Chip Shop is very secretive about its exact recipe for fish but provided a similar one for Cooking Class. Using a cheap, fizzy beer — the more bubbles, the better — helps to make a tasty batter that fries up crisp around the haddock, Heisler says.
She recommends Mushy Peas, another traditional British dish, as accompaniment. While the name sounds strange, the vivid, rich pea flavor is not. The dish is easy to make, and, says Heisler, so good some customers dip their fish in it.
3 cups flour, plus more for dredging
3 tablespoons Hungarian paprika (regular paprika, not smoked)
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces fizzy, yellow beer or lager
Oil, for frying
Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir together with a whisk.
Make a well in the center, pour in the beer (see photo 1) and use the whisk to work the beer into the flour mixture.
Adjust the consistency, if necessary, with water until the batter is the consistency of a thick cheese sauce.
Season the dredging flour with salt and pepper prior to use.
Dredge each piece of fish in the seasoned flour, then drag it through the beer batter (photo 2).
Float it in oil heated to 350 degrees, then release and let it cook through. Remove the fish from the oil (photo 3), drain and serve immediately.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
4 cups green peas, fresh or frozen
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
4 ounces butter
The peas can be frozen or thawed; they just take longer to cook if using frozen. Place all of the ingredients in a pot (photo 4) and bring to a simmer, stirring periodically. When the peas are heated, the butter is melted and the cream starts to simmer, remove the pot from the heat and use a hand blender or food processor to puree until smooth (photo 5).
These can be served immediately or cooled and reheated for later.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.