Think back to the last fairly rubbish chip you ate. It is probably not too hard. Mine was last Sunday at a burger van in Leeds. It was soggy and tasteless. I ate it anyway. Despite the chip being a national culinary tradition – last week saw The Bay chippie in Aberdeen win takeaway of the year at the National Fish and Chip awards, while chipmongers go all out in February promoting both Fish and Chips Week and Chip Week – our expectations tend towards the extremely low. And they are almost invariably met.
So how do you perfect the chip? “It’s hard to say,” says Ashley Palmer-Watts, who worked for years at the Fat Duck before becoming head chef at Heston Blumenthal’s newest restaurant, Dinner. “Heston started working on it around 1993 and it’s still a work in progress. But the aim is to create a chip that is evenly cooked and fluffy.” And is it really that hard? “I’m afraid so,” he grins. “But here’s what we’ve learned so far.”
First, choose your potato. Not any potato. You need one with between 21 and 23% dry matter. Whatever that is. “At this time of year, we use the agria,” says Palmer-Watts. “But the consistency of a variety is very seasonal, so at other times of the year we might use the fontaine or the maris piper. You have to monitor them carefully. In August and September, all varieties tend to have too much sugar and not enough starch so we take chips off the menu then.”
All Dinner’s potatoes are pre-cut into Palmer-Watts’s preferred 16mm diameter, square at the ends. They are then placed in salted water, brought slowly to the boil and left to simmer. “The salt is to make the outside crunchy,” says Palmer-Watts. “But the real trick here is to keep on boiling the potatoes for about three minutes longer than you imagine is necessary. Every trainee chef at the Fat Duck has to be taught this. You want the potato to be visibly beginning to break up on the outside, so that when you come to fry it, the fat can work its way into the heart of the chip.”
At this point, if you are Palmer-Watts, you will remove the chips from the water and place them in a blast chiller to remove excess moisture. Everyone else can bung theirs in the fridge for half an hour to an hour. But which? Half an hour or an hour? Palmer-Watts smiles and shrugs apologetically. “I told you it was complicated,” he says. “It depends on the exact moisture content of the potato, the temperature of the fridge and how full it is.”
Then comes the first fry – in a blend of 30% beef fat to 70% vegetable oil at a temperature of 130C. This should take between four to 15 minutes. Depending on what? “Depending on the potato,” Palmer-Watts explains gently. “What we’re trying to do is create a membrane around the outside of the chip with this first fry. Can you see it?” I can’t, but I’m sure it’s there so I say yes – I know when I’m out of my depth. He then takes the chips out of the fryer and puts them back in the blast chiller to remove further moisture.
For the final fry, the heat is turned up to between 180 and 190C. How do you know when they’re done? “They will have a slightly glassy sheen on the outside,” he says. “Can you see it?” I can. It’s a chip that looks exactly like I’d always pictured a chip. And tastes even better. I was initially rather disappointed when Palmer-Watts said there were only about 12 chips in a portion as it felt a bit stingy. But by the time I had scoffed them, I felt stuffed. Here was a chip I could get used to. What sauce should you have, I ask. “Tomato ketchup,” he insists. What? Some sort of heritage tomato triple reduction? “No. Heinz.”
• This article was amended on 31 January 2013. Originally it included a reference to quantities of salt. This has been removed.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.