While Jewish contributions to Western culture have indeed been impressive, from time to time overzealous Jewish writers succumb to the temptation to take credit where none is in fact due. Thus one occasionally finds the claim—based ultimately on an essay written by the great Anglo-Jewish historian Cecil Roth in the 1950s—that Portuguese descendants of converted Jews brought fish and chips, that quintessential English staple, to Britain in the 16th century. The distinguished anthropologist Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett debunks this claim, but notes other piscatory delights that are indeed of Jewish origin:
There are many ways to fry fish, several of which appear in the first Jewish cookbook published in the English language, The Jewish Manual (1846). . . . None is specifically identified as Jewish or recommended for the Sabbath, although fish fried in oil and eaten cold was and still is a beloved Sabbath dish on the English table. Israel Zangwill sang its praises in his 1892 novel Children of the Ghetto.
A century earlier, Hannah Glasse published a recipe for “preserving salmon and all sorts of fish the Jews’ way”—a recipe for escabeche, which begins by dredging fish in flour and frying it in oil before pickling it in vinegar. Glasse adds that “all sorts of [flour-dredged] fish fried well in oil, eat very fine cold with shallot, or oil and vinegar.” This recipe appears in the appendix to the sixth edition of The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1758) and is believed to be the first time that a recipe for frying fish in oil and serving it cold appears in print as a Jewish dish, at least in the English language.
What distinguishes fish in the “Jews’ way” is not only dredging it in flour and frying it in oil, but most importantly, eating it cold and according it pride of place on the Sabbath table. The fried fish in British fish and chips is a different dish.