i DO have a chip on my shoulder but I'd prefer it were in my mouth.
February 6, 2008 8:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I make chip shop chips at home?

I live in Texas but have made many trips to the U.K. over the years and I always come home missing authentic chippie-style chips. There's no shortage of places around here that sell fish & chips (and I could give a damn about the fish) but none of them serve anything that tastes like the chips I get in the U.K.

If I want them in the U.S. I'm gonna have to make them myself but I have no idea what the secret is. Is it the oil? (I'd prefer not to use lard and I know I've had chips that were more than suitable fried in vegetable oil or peanut oil.) Is it the potato? Do you boil them first? Is it the oil temperature? And what of the salt and vinegar?

Help a brother out.
posted by ericthegardener to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
this is a pretty good read about fries.

in short: oil type matters, and you probably want to use soybean or peanut oil. temperature matters (you probably want to fry at around 350*). you may want to blanch the taters first.

one tip i can offer, which seems unintuitive, but works very well when frying at home in a pot is this: place the taters in the room temperature oil, then raise the heat to frying temp. i'm not sure why it works, but you get some good crispy fries this way.
posted by gnutron at 8:14 PM on February 6, 2008

Don't boil them first. They'll retain water, and you'll end up with an oil-spitting nightmare.

A big part of it is double cooking. You want to fry the chips for about 10 minutes, and then take the basket out of the oil and let them drain. This also lets the oil heat up more, before the final cook.

Picking the right spuds helps, but the double-cook thing is (imho) the biggest single improvement you can make on your chip technique.
posted by pompomtom at 8:23 PM on February 6, 2008

this is a recipe I'd suggest using.

It involves frying the chips twice; first at a lower temperature, then at a higher one.
posted by ambilevous at 8:24 PM on February 6, 2008

America's Test Kitchen has tackled this one head-on and offers a definitive, step-by-step recipe which, while free, does require registration at their web site.
posted by deCadmus at 8:31 PM on February 6, 2008

Best way is to cut the taters, then soak them in ice water (seriously - add ice) for about 45 minutes, and then pat them dry. Fry at 365 (which on my fryer means setting it to 400 - may want to use a thermometer) for about 8 minutes until they start to brown. Then take them out and set them on paper towels. At this point I let them "sweat" for up to an hour - it makes a big difference in the final fry.

Finally, fry in 365 oil for another 5 or so minutes - until they look done or float.

Mmmm... I may go do this right now.

Oh, and beef fat does make a big difference in the final taste. And using oil that's been used a few times gives them a nice golden color. Yum!

posted by mamessner at 8:46 PM on February 6, 2008

It's just the ambiance ("I'm in Britain! Land of chips!") and the pints you've had before the chips, with one difference. Seriously. I know-- sounds cynical. Hear me out.

As a mostly 21-year-old, I spent a year working in a hotel in a small village in Wales (I'm a native New Englander, raised in the home of the bean and the cod.) I saw the inner workings of hotel kitchens (the staff of the three serious hotels in town were a massive clique), saw the deliveries for the town's chip shop, and all my wages (and money begged from my parents) went to beer, chips and rail/bus tickets. And I can tell you this with authority: British chips are nearly the same everywhere, they're nearly always made from huge bags of previously-frozen, pre-cut chips (RHM, which is the British or at least Mid-Wales SYSCO equivalent was the usual supplier), and the only thing different from American fries is THE SHAPE.

American fires are often really thin shoestrings or too-thick, sponge-like stakes of potato. British chips have that perfect shape with the tapered end leading to a slightly-mealy but not too-thick center and then a diagonal edge or (even better) another taper. The texture's more varied and they're rarely soggy, and that makes them better than the usual North American fare.

Here's the thing about that-- Belgian and Dutch frites are cut just like proper chips, but they're often cut fresh and, more importantly, fried twice. Once is like a blanching with oil to set the starch and remove water. Then they let them cool. The second frying is to crisp them up beautifully. Try them and your fondness for British chips will disappear.

So to wrap this up, the only difference between American and British fried potatoes is the shape. Both kinds are usually made in a two-step process where a listless worker dumps defrosted potato pieces into hot fat and then drains them. British people don't have different fats, different potatoes or equipment that works on a different principle and there aren't any other ingredients besides salt and condiments. And Heinz ketchup is (essentially) the same and malt vinegar is malt vinegar.

Cut your potatoes like europeans do, get some malt vinegar, have 3 imperial pints of Fuller's
and eat them out of a cone with a wooden pick and you'll be as close as you're going to get.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:02 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I caught the first episode of Heston Blumenthal's show In Search of Perfection on the Food Network (Canada) last week, in which he goes to great lengths to produce the best possible version of fish and chips. The complete recipes are here. Note that he's pretty fussy about not just cooking the chips more than once (boiling as well as deep frying), but refrigerating them to encourage the development of the proper fluffy interior texture.

The potato varieties are rather obscure: the Arran Victory and Maris Piper potatoes are what the Brits call "floury" potatoes, for their relatively dry texture. In North America, we call those "mealy" potatoes, so the classic russets or Idaho potatoes should be fine.

I very much doubt that real chip shops use his techniques (and Mayor Curley's first hand experience certainly reinforces that), but if you feel like completely geeking out about chips, give it a go -- and report back to us!
posted by maudlin at 9:36 PM on February 6, 2008

I too struggled with this once. Alton Brown solved the mystery in this video.

Skip to 1:50 if you don't want to see the fish part. He explains it perfectly. good luck.
posted by special-k at 10:40 PM on February 6, 2008

In addition to the two or three stage cooking, the perfect chip should be fried in beef dripping or - supposedly better yet (I have to admit I haven't tried it) - horse fat.
posted by kxr at 12:32 AM on February 7, 2008

Beef dripping makes a big, big difference to the flavour. If it's had fish and sausages and the odd mars bar and mini-pizza fried in it first, so much the better. I absolutely would NOT use peanut oil which has a quite distinctive flabour (not a bad one, but not the classic UK chip one either). In my experience the very crispest chips are done in cottonseed or rice bran oil, but the best flavour is from beef dripping.

I'm afraid the Belgians have it over the British in my book though. The Belgian technique does a low temperature fry followed by a high temperature fry.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:01 AM on February 7, 2008

Yes, Belgian frites are so much better than standard UK chips. The best frites I had were in Amsterdam at Valmes Frites which, unfortunately, is a real common name. DAMN. Those were the best fries I have ever had and I speak as a person who loves fried food and has no shame eating it.

The potato choice does make a difference and I noticed that in he UK that there are more varieties of potatoes available than in the US. Marco Pierre White is real picky, when he focuses, on not just type but location of growth (uphill, downhill) of the spuds he uses.

So how does one cut Euro style frites?
posted by jadepearl at 2:46 AM on February 7, 2008

As others have said, double frying is the key. The best chippies do this so that they can part-cook the chips, then as customers come in, they can do the final fry in the hotter oil to produce the perfect chip - golden and crispy on the outside and fluffy inside, cooked to order. The chips will keep for ages between the first and second fryings.

It's also important to use the right potato. You need a floury rather than a waxy potato for the perfect chip.
posted by essexjan at 3:53 AM on February 7, 2008

Excellent information on potato to chip transformation. I personally happened across the low-temp fry followed by high-temp through experimentation and a bit of logic around cooking processes. Blanching comes in various forms (oil, water, steam, stock, fat...) but it plays a large part in cooking really good veggie's

What's the simplest guide to identifying a waxy versus floury spud at the market?
posted by michswiss at 4:43 AM on February 7, 2008

What's the simplest guide to identifying a waxy versus floury spud at the market?

Floury potatoes are high in starch, like a thick, brown-skinned baking potato, such as the classic Idaho baking potato. Waxy potatoes are lower in starch, like a thin-skinned red or yellow potato.
posted by essexjan at 5:00 AM on February 7, 2008

A floury spud is more of a baked-potato potato -- rougher brown skin. A waxy one generally has a thin skin and a colorful name (red potato, yukon gold, purple).
posted by macadamiaranch at 5:01 AM on February 7, 2008

Another way to determine a waxy vs. starchy potato is to cut a raw potato with a knife cut a in half, if you see a lot of white residue on the knife blade and the potato kind of sticks then it is probably a startchy potato. Here is a link to a potato link and uses based on type.
posted by jadepearl at 6:27 AM on February 7, 2008

Wow! Thanks for all the great answers!

The consensus seems to be that the frying the chips twice really is key, so I'm going to try to do some experimenting this weekend and I'll report back with the results. The experimenting may go on for a couple of weekends as I try some of the variations that you all suggested (unless I hit the bullseye on the first try).

Mayor Curley, thanks for one of my favorite answers but I will never believe in my heart that the only difference is the shape. I'm convinced it has something to do with the weather. ;)
posted by ericthegardener at 9:07 AM on February 7, 2008

It should be borne in mind that there are many places that sell chips, but they don't all do them the same way, so different British people have different views on what proper chips are.

To me proper chips are slightly soft, not crisp. You mainly tend to get these in chip shops which cook the chips and then store them in those glass-windowed counters with the hot lamps and oil drainage in them. Or somehow they are magically like this when you get them home if you had them wrapped up ...

These windowed receptacles are closed on at least three sides, and the chips are taken from the back of the counter as needed, while others are frying up. I think this must be what softens the chips after cooking: they're perhaps are very slightly steamed by being enclosed in this environment, in a big pile on top of each other.

I think this stage should be given some trendy authority by being called "resting". After all, everyone agrees you should rest meats, so why not rest chips, too?

If you go to a chip shop and get chips that have only just come out of the fryer they just don't have this rested, softened quality that, in my opinion, makes them perfect.

If I ever buy a deep fat fryer, I'd consider this an essential step in preparing the chips. Perhaps by removing the chips from the fryer and after some brief oil drainage, wrapping them in greaseproof paper and newspaper just as was traditional for takeaways. I'm sure this, after a fake walk home, might lead to exactly the effect I'm used to.
posted by galaksit at 3:46 PM on February 7, 2008

Yeah a few comments. I totally disagree that chips taste the same as the American varieties, or that the only difference is the size. I'm fairly confident that the varieties used in the UK have a different flavor. I also doubt it's the oil.

I suppose you can double fry if you want your potatoes crispy, but as glaksit said that's not really the proper UK chip...UK chips aren't crunchy or crispy like fries are.

Most recommendations here will get you some mighty tasty french fries but they will not get you chips.

First, I would explore with potato varieties. I think you have to find a potato with a stronger flavor...I feel like somehow potato varieties used in the States for fries are not usually quite as strongly flavored. Then, you need to get it in chip form rather than fry form, which means hacking it into pieces yourself.

Keep in mind I have never made chips and don't know what I'm talking about really, except to the extent that I have eaten plenty of chips and know that they're nothing like fries.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:24 PM on February 7, 2008

Whatever you do*, do eat them with vinegar. Beyond delicious!

*I nth the two step frying process. First at 150°C, then 180°C.
posted by lioness at 5:16 PM on February 7, 2008

British chips have that perfect shape with the tapered end leading to a slightly-mealy but not too-thick center and then a diagonal edge or (even better) another taper.

Any tips or tutorials on how to cut them UK-style?
posted by mattbucher at 9:32 AM on February 8, 2008

Not sure if anyone is still following this thread but I thought I'd report back with the results of my experiments.

I am pleased to report that I have completely and totally succeeded in making my apartment smell like a chip shop. As far as making great chips, I would say that I am about 80% of the way there. Not bad I'd say.

The whole frying once at a lower temp and then frying again at a higher temp mostly did the trick. Maris Piper are not available in Dallas so I used plain ol' Idaho Russets and they weren't bad.

The overall taste is just a little too sweet. Not sure if that's the potato, the oil, or maybe even the malt vinegar I'm using. Otherwise it was pretty close. I'd say the texture was exactly what I was looking for.

Thanks again for the tips!

Now, does anyone know where I can get those little wooden mini-fork thingys?
posted by ericthegardener at 7:04 PM on February 18, 2008

The wooden mini-fork thingys are not mandated. You have it on authority. You can use your fingers. :)

What you haven't told us is whether you were looking for crisp chips or the soft kind that I and Deathalicious both reckon are the real deal.
posted by galaksit at 3:22 PM on February 29, 2008

When I've gotten fish & chips in the UK at a take-away, they're often placed in a cardboard tray-type thing with the fish on top and then wrapped in butcher paper. As a result, in the minutes before you open and eat them, the whole thing gets lightly steamed by the moisture in the recently-fried slab of fish. Any salt and vinegar that has been applied results in a sort of steam-marination effect from those flavors.
posted by XMLicious at 8:54 AM on March 12, 2008

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