Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

When the chips are down

I am fairly sick of oven chips, I’ll tell you that for nothing.
 
Although I’ve discovered they still work wonders between two slices of bread with enough butter applied that it ends up running down your chin.
 
Anyone that knows me, knows I’ve recently moved house and as a by-product of that flit (and my general life dishevelment), I have yet to gain a deep fat fryer for the new residence (which for argument sake, we’ll refer to henceforward as Rancho Relaxo).
 
As it the case with both little humans and Saturday nights (in that they regularly demand chips), I’ve had to go down the oven route for the past few months.
 
Whilst there is much to be said for some varieties of oven chips and more importantly, home-made wedges – not least the healthiness of the latter – when you want chip shop quality chips at home, there’s only one way forward: Fat and deep and cooked at least twice.
 
I’m not sure where I read this, possibly it was in Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson, but apparently the best fat for making chips is horse fat.
 
Hmmm… Wouldn’t they take a quare look at you in Centra if you landed in looking for a litre of horse fat, so as you might have guessed, I’ve yet to ride that particular gastronomic filly. See what I did there? Racy!
 
I recall too an erstwhile conversation I had with the owner of a local chipper from whom I was attempting to extricate the blend of oils he uses for his excellent fried fayre.
 
Alas, he wouldn’t part with that (chicken?) nugget of information so I’ve hated him from then onwards.
 
Actually, I don’t hate him but certainly I was aggrieved he didn’t trust me enough to say, lest the secret arrive in these pages.
 
The oil I tend to use at home is rapeseed, although I’ve also used groundnut and peanut and sunflower oil and even beef dripping.
 
I’ve even used a blend of several but rapeseed is a decent regular and it’s always available, unlike horse fat. Come to think of it, sunflower is also good.
 
More importantly in my view, is the type of potatoes you fashion into the French fries.
 
The big no-no is using waxy spuds. Pretty much any floury variety is fair game: Think Maris Piper, Navan, Kerr’s Pinks etc.
 
In the past, I have attracted some stiff criticism from people at my method for making the ultimate chip.
 
“Sure, what are ye at?” and, “Is your head away?” are regular comments when friends and family appear at my side as I’m washing the juvenile chips under the cold tap.
 
Then there’s the repeated frying, for which a deep fat jobbie with a decent thermostat is absolutely essential.
 
Then there’s the drying. Sound like a palaver? It is, but the end result is so good, so crunchy, so satisfying, that you might jettison any burgers or battered sausages or fried chicken and make chips the main event.
 
This isn’t a recipe per se but rather a process I adhere to whenever I’m making the Ultimate Chips – when I eventually get around to buying that deep fat fryer.
 
THE PLAN
 
Peel and chip your potatoes of choice, only make sure they’re floury ones.
 
That done, put the chips into a bowl and wash with cold water.
 
This rinses away all the starch and should make for a more crunchy end product.
 
Keep washing until the water from the chips runs clear and then wash some more.
 
Next dry the chips.
 
A dry chip is a happy chip and again, this helps the crunchifying process.
 
I normally use a clean tea towel and then a sheet or two of kitchen paper to make sure they’re completely dried.
 
Even then, I’ll let them sit out for a while to be absolutely sure.
 
Heat the oil in the fryer to 150˚C. That done, add the chips to the basket and lower the chips into the fat but don’t over crowd the basket!
 
Too many chips will make the temperature drop too much.
 
Depending on thickness, they’ll take between seven and ten minutes and don’t be worried if they don’t look to crispy at this stage.
 
This initial frying is only to cook the potato through.
 
At the seven minute mark, take a chip out and test to see if it’s cooked through; I normally eat it.
 
If it’s not done, give them another minute and test again.
 
When they’re cooked through, remove from the fat and pump the heat up to 185˚C.
 
When the fat reaches that temperature dunk them in again and stay focussed.
 
Depending on the variety of spud, its age and moisture content, it could take between 30 seconds and two minutes before it’s crisped and fried and crunchy.
 
If you weren’t too starving at the time, you could even dunk the chips for a third time for maximum crispiness, but I can never normally be bothered.
 
All that remains is the draining of the chips onto kitchen paper, a generous helping of malt vinegar and lots of salt.
 
Ketchup, mayo, sriracha? All three? That’s how we roll in Rancho Relaxo.
 
I am therefore on the hunt for a deep fat fryer… Recommendations gladly received, as are financial contributions.

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