Foodstyle Review Magazine


The mighty chip 

Alan Titchall reviews the world's obsession with the perfect chip.

Trust me, Googling the word ‘potato chip’ will make your eyes spin in different directions with the sheer volume of information. You won't believe so much can be written about deep-fried spud cuttings.

So much history since the humble tuber vege was shipped from South America in 1536 to land in boiling hot European oil; so many names for the same chip; so many shapes; so many cooking theories; and so many complementary sauces.

In one variation or another, chips are the most popular food service vegetable side order on the planet. As a nation, Kiwis pig out on seven million serves of chips per week, according to Horticulture NZ, as food outlets, from roller-door takeaways to the country’s finest eateries (albeit with fancy French names) pump out ‘chups’ as fast as their deep-fat fryers will cope.

This makes the Kiwi-inspired ‘Best Chip Shop Competition’ all the more interesting.  It had been running for some years before taking a break in 2013 while the cost of the competition was reviewed. The competition is back for 2017 with the chip-munching public encouraged to text their vote over the duration of the competition. The top ranking chipperies in each region are visited by an anonymous judge looking for chip freshness and colour, shop cleanliness and service. Greasy chips are the ultimate sin to those in charge of the nation’s waistline, so samples are sent to a laboratory to check their fat content. Only those containing fat levels of less, than or equal to, 11 percent make the grade.

This competition is organised by the sensibly named ‘Chip Group’, made up of players in the food service industry, such as potato growers, chip manufacturers (including Mr Chips), oil suppliers, and equipment suppliers. It also has Government members such as the Heart Foundation and The Ministry of Health. The group recommends operators serve chips with less than nine percent fat as this campaign is out to trim the fat from our collective cardiovascular plumbing.

I covered the competitive for food service magazines for a number of years in the past and couldn't help notice that all the winners cooked their chips in lard (beef fat). So if you are vegetarian it might pay to ask what the cooking medium is before buying chips.

Get rid of the starch and bang your chips

To make a good fried chip you have to get rid of the starch in your raw chips before frying by soaking them in water for a long time in the fridge, or boiling them until they are half cooked and then letting them dry.

The Chip Groups’ industry standards poster recommends straight-cut, thick chips (at least 13mm thick) to reduce fat content. They should be cooked in clean fat or oil heated to between 175 - 180°C, it says.

I question this recommended frying heat. While cook books on chip making are few and far between, every professional chip cook I know turns the thermostat between 180 and 190 degrees Celsius, particularly when using frozen chips. The Professional Chef (the culinary bible in the US - the home of fast food) recommends a heat between 350F and 375F (177 to 191 Celsius) for thick-cut chips.

It is also very important to bang or shake the basket vigorously “twice” then hang the chips for at least 20 seconds to reduce fat absorption.

As it is cost effective, a large volume of the world’s fries bubble away in vats of cost-effective canola oil, but it’s the densely saturated fats (more solid at room temperature) that produce the crispiest and tastiest fries. And every good spud cook from Rick Stein to the late Julia Child (and even my dear Mum) will tell you - the best chips are cooked in beef dripping. The Belgians, inventors of the double-fried fries, typically used horse or beef fat to make those famous ‘straw fries’ that became so popular with fast food outlets, and even fine dining restaurants back in the 1990s.

Closer to home I reviewed the Award-winning Mangonui Fish Shop on the top of the North Island  a few years ago. Back then, operator Alan Wright said he had tried a number of different vegetable oils over the years before going back to beef lard. The tallow lasts a lot longer, he said, because it is not absorbed by the chips as much as vegetable oil.

His kitchen also turns up the vat heat between 180C and 190C, and Wright made no secret of using Mr Chips’Agria chips, frozen and straight into the vat, no pre-cooking. “They have a floury soft centre and a lovely yellow colour. Someone even accused me of dying my chips.”
Never use the same oil for cooking meats such as sausages, or rich fish such as salmon, he warned. Don’t crowd the vat and after banging/shaking the basket, leave it to drain for “at least two minutes”.

Crossing cultural taste boundaries

Spuds are the most popular tuber vegetable grown in the world. You might think most then are grown in the west, but 80 percent of the world’s spud crop is now grown in Asia, particularly China. ‘Would you like fries with your Peking Duck?’

The fat chip, as opposed to crisps and shoestring/straw fries (pommes allumettes), was popular in France/Belgium way back in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson, the same Tom that wrote the American Declaration of Independence, and features on the US$10 bill, is said to have taken the chip bowl to the US after serving in France as an ambassador between 1785 and 1789. The English didn’t seriously pick up the commercial chip craze until the 1860s. In the US during WW2 chips were pushed on menus because potatoes weren't rationed like other foods.

What does differentiate chip-eating cultures today are the condiments. In Belgium it's mayonnaise; in the UK malt vinegar and salt; in the US it is ketchup or gravy; curry sauce in Germany; and in Australasia – tomato sauce of course.

Chip toppings have become very innovative – engaging different sea salts, grated cheeses, chilies, truffle oil, smoked paprika mayo, and herbs such as rosemary.

Last decade there was an interesting Middle East meets ‘Coro Street’ trend in the UK where chips were stuffed into Pitta bread.

As the late Amy Winehouse croons in 'You Know I’m no Good'  - “Run out to meet you, chips and pitta.” 


Summer 2016-2017

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Top photo: Odettes' brunch menu (Saturday and Sunday 8am-3pm) features an exotic chip bowl flavoured with mix spices, torn curry leaves and honey mustard.

Bottom photo: My brother-in-law Frank tucking into fried seafood and chips at the Award-winning Mangonui Fish Shop

Shoestring fries favoured with truffle oil and grated parmesan on the main menu at the Cod & Lobster Brasserie in Nelson.

Chips should be crisp.

Shoe-string chips in newspaper, De Post Belgian Beer Cafe, Mt Eden, Auckland.

Chips at Vault 21, The Octagon, Dunedin.

A salad like the one featured in this issue is a perfect match with chips.