How to make incredible chips at home (without a deep fat fryer)
We used to make a lot of chips at the Hole in the Wall. 50, 75, sometimes 100kg of potatoes a week would be washed, peeled and hand cut into thick chips. They would then be washed again, often several times, to remove any excess starch (‘rinse them until the water runs clear’ was the instruction) before being slowly simmered in plenty of salted water. This part of the procedure was the most challenging and required patience, a keen eye and a reasonable amount of experience. The idea was to retrieve them from the bubbling water just before they began to collapse. Too soon and the insides would be dense and claggy, too late and the whole lot would collapse into a watery mess that, if we were lucky, was useful only for mashed potato. Often I would turn off the heat underneath the pans before the chips were anywhere close, knowing that the residual heat - over 15 minutes or so - would complete the cooking process and help avoid the painful results of a pan full of cloudy, thin gruel-like soup.
Once cooked through, they would be ever-so-gently lifted out of the water and placed on waiting trays in a single layer in order to steam dry and develop a slightly leathery exterior. If we had time, they would sit, uncovered, for a night in the walk-in fridge so as to dry out even more. There were a great many Wednesday mornings (Tuesday was always 'deep prep' day) when there would be little room for anything else in the cold room, every available space taken up with trays of pallid chips to see us through the first half of the week.
Other than the rare occasions when the menu called for French fries, the chips on offer were always cooked three times. Once boiled, dried and cooled, the second cooking involved blanching the chips in cool oil in an attempt to further drive off even more moisture - the aim being to create a chip that was positively crispy on the outside and light, fluffy and delicate on the interior. This second cooking was done in large batches, the twin 15 litre fryers burbling away at 120 degrees whilst the baskets groaned under the weight of chipped potatoes gently bubbling in the warm oil for eight or nine minutes. Again, this part of the process necessitated a level of clairvoyance as it was necessary to remove the chips from the oil, prior to them taking on any colour. The reason for this was simple - any caramelisation would be intensified during the third cooking and there was a danger that the high temperatures could cause bitterness to creep into the finished produce. Generally, once the bubbles began to subside it was time to yank the basket out of the fryer and tip the chips into another tray, this time lined with j-cloth to absorb the excess oil. They would be chilled again and then stacked neatly into containers ready for service.
The final cooking was always done to order, this time in hot oil and small batches so that the cold chips didn’t reduce the temperature of the fryer too much. Two portions was the maximum that I would allow to cook at any one time in a single fryer - any more and the quality would dip. This last cook took 3-4 minutes and would result in a wonderfully textured thick chip. A sprinkle of Maldon salt and then away into the dining room - often followed immediately with a request for tomato ketchup or mayonnaise, neither of which I frowned upon. We sold hundreds of these a week, although I have a suspicion that there were often deliberate ‘over-fires’ when there would be a few too many chips to fit into the serving bowl. These spare chips would accumulate over the course of a service and provide some much needed, and readily available, snacks for hard-working cooks and waiting staff.
It’s certainly one food I miss. I think I must have eaten chips just three or four times over the last year or so and am yet to re-create, or even taste, the true glory of a proper triple-cooker. The truth is that not all chips are created equal and the vast majority of them out there are simply not worth the calories. Hand cutting chips from bags of grubby spuds is increasingly rare in pubs and restaurants, going to the effort of cooking them properly three times, rarer still. It’s a lot of work for just a few quid.
Without a deep fat fryer the idea of making chips from scratch seems a little pointless or even quaintly old-fashioned, especially in our obesity-ridden and health conscious times. But there are moments when only a pile of chips will do and, in my opinion, there aren’t any good ones out there.
So what is a carb-lover to do? How does one fill that empty space next to your homemade burger (complete with brioche bun and relish made from scratch)? I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a solution. It’s one that results in a chip as close to the platonic ideal as possible, without even having to go anywhere near the attic to dig out the ancient chip pan.
The method is extremely simple, and is exactly the same one I use for making roast potatoes. Obviously the potato itself is important and I tend to favour something floury rather than waxy - a standard baking potato will do just fine. The type of oil, too, is important, and after much experimentation over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that a cold-pressed rapeseed oil, vibrant and orange, is by far the best. It handles the heat well, lends enough flavour to complement the potato and roasts up to a fabulous yellow colour.
Whilst these chips are only cooked twice, the first cooking is just as crucial as it is with a triple-cooked number - the trick is to boil the chips as long as you dare, and remove them from the water just before they begin to break down. If you’re not confident, turn off the heat under the pan after seven or eight minutes and allow the heat to gently cook the chips all the way through.
The chilling process isn’t as important here but the steaming is - once the chips have been boiled, sit them in a tray in a single layer for at least 20 minutes to allow the moisture in them to evaporate away. The result will be a crispier chip.
Finally, on the skin-on versus skin-off debate, I’m not going to weigh in. Go with your instinct. Just make sure you have some Maldon salt on hand to add that final touch of seasoning.
Recipe - Possibly the greatest oven chips in the world
Floury potatoes - quantities aren’t important, there are never enough chips
Cold-pressed rapeseed oil
Heinz tomato ketchup
Peel - or don’t - your potatoes. Cut into evenly sized chips and wash three or four times in fresh warm water. Place into a saucepan large enough to hold them all with plenty of room left over so that they can move about as they cook, and cover with cold water. Add enough salt so that the water tastes seasoned, but not as salty as the sea, and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Cook the potatoes until just before they begin to break down. The chips should be cooked all the way through and have the same texture as a boiled potato (unsurprising, considering that is what they are). The longer you dare to leave them, the better they will be.
Heat the oven to 190 degrees C. Carefully transfer the potatoes into a colander to drain them and then into a large baking tray so that they can steam dry for about 20 minutes as the oven heats up. In a separate, tray - again large enough to hold the chips in a single layer - add enough rapeseed oil to cover the bottom and then transfer the chips into it. Move them around to make sure they are well coated; you are trying to mimic the effect of a deep fat fryer without going to the trouble of actually getting one, or making your kitchen smell unpleasant for several days.
Cook the chips for 20-25 minutes then turn them over and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until they are beginning to colour and crisp up on the edges. Tip them onto kitchen paper or a clean towel to remove some of the oil and sprinkle with salt.
Serve with slices of buttered white bread, mayonnaise and ketchup.