There are those who deep-fat fry, and those who don’t. Up until recently, I was one of the latter. This was not out of any health concerns. Deep-fried foods may be higher in fat and calories, but in moderation that’s hardly a worry. Nor was it a matter of safety – although the words “chip-pan fire” strike fear into my heart. If anything, I felt a kind of ecological dread about using so much oil and how to dispose of it. But having unearthed some responsible options, I decided to bite the bullet. By not deep-fat frying, after all, I was depriving myself of an array of treats: churros, donuts, fried chicken. And, of course, the food that really recruited me: chips. I wanted to make my own golden-brown versions at home.
Why bother, you might ask. There are plenty of takeaway joints near me that do excellent chips. And making them to the same high standard is, most cooks agree, hard work. But I saw it as a challenge. Some people train for marathons. I make chips.
Where to start? Potatoes. Most people favour floury varieties such as Maris Piper or King Edward, which yield a fluffy, dry texture when cooked. Koffmann’s Foods, which supplies spuds to chefs, sent me a 20kg sack of its chipping potatoes. The bag doubled as a weight for balancing on my back during squats. Or it would have done if I did squats.
It’s common to use vegetable oils such as groundnut or sunflower. But you can use beef tallow or lard for a fuller flavour. Horse fat is an option, at least in countries where horse is on the menu. According to Michelin-starred chef Alain Passard, quoted in Jeffrey Steingarten’s raucous memoir The Man Who Ate Everything, it lends “a not-disagreeable horsey flavour”. I settled for rapeseed oil.
The real trick to perfect chips is soaking the cut potatoes in water to remove the excess starch and frying them first at 160ºC, then again at 190ºC. This double-fry ensures the chips are dried out inside and don’t turn soggy.
As I’m no slouch, I tried Heston Blumenthal’s triple-cooked method, too. This involves boiling the chips for 20-30 mins until they almost fall apart, freezing for at least an hour (to thoroughly dry them out), deep-frying them, freezing them again, and frying them a final time. Cooking time: 40 mins. Preparation time: three hours. I used the Tefal Oleoclean Pro fryer, which filters and stores the oil between sessions for easy reuse. Was the triple-cook worth the effort? The fries were crisp, fluffy and better than the double-fry frites. They also made me feel virtuous for having slaved away in making them. And how often do chips make you feel that?