Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thick Cut Chip Revisited Part 2

For part 1 go here.

So, the perfect thick-cut English chip. Step one, peel and chip your potatoes. There is a French school of thought that states a perfect frite needs to be cut with a knife as opposed to a chipper  - something to do with the surface tension. However, my good friends at Caterer and Hotel-keeper experimented and found little difference between  knife-cut and chipper cut. I have a chipper. So I used it. I'm not a big fan of  chips with the skins on. Are they healthier and earthier? Maybe, but we're making the ultimate slummy fast food, at least have a modicum of refinement. The skins go. Then I ran them through my chipper. One of these:

I have this exact model
Anyway, once you've peeled and chipped them, even Heston Blumenthal feels they should be soaked in some fresh cold water for about five minutes. The authorities at Caterers and Hotel-keepers think that prolonged soaking is actually detreminental to the spud and extracts too much starch, resulting in an inferior chip. So five minutes it is. Then they require a simmer in hot water. To salt or not to salt the water? Blumenthal salted the water in his recipes from five years previous and his updated version, which was posted in the UK Guardian, about two months ago has omitted the salt. Hmmm, he must have realized no salt is better, so no salt.  I water-poached the two varieties of chips in two separate vessels. The first thing I remarked is that the russets cook a lot quicker and within about 8-10 minutes they were starting to fray and some even broke apart. The Yukons, in contrast, were much more robust in the water medium but took about twice as long to become thee-quarters cooked (which is basically the doneness you want). The next step is to dry the wet chips out. It was suggested to put them in the freezer for an hour. I put them in the freezer (on a drying rack) for a total of 15 minutes, and then let them sit at room temperature for a further 30 minutes. Given the end results, this was adequate. This is what they looked like at this stage:

On the left, Yukon Gold and on the right, Russets
The next stage is the oil poaching. I turned my deep fryer to about 350 degrees, banking on the fact that the when chips hit the oil, it will drop to about 325, which is the neighborhood I want to be in for oil poaching. At this point, the russets were very delicate and I had to be careful with how I handled them. The Yukon's were very easy to handle and held their shape. I guess this is one of those areas where the food industry would prefer the robust chip over the delicate chip regardless of end results for ease of production. Anyway, I plodded onward and did an eight minute poach for both varieties (basically fry without colour). Then get them back on the drying rack. At this point they can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen. Heston says they should be frozen for an hour after the oil poach to further dry them out, but I found this unnecessary. Here they are after the oil poach:

Poached in oil with no colour
And the last phase, of course, was the final hot fry. For this I crank the fryer up to 375F and fry the chips in batches just up to the colour I liked (they are essentially already cooked, so you're just going for colour and crispness here). Then, I tossed them in a stainless steel bowl with lots of salt. You must always salt the chips immediately after they come out of the oil. Moreover, to get chips that taste like you got them at the pub, salt a little more than you think is reasonable (remember, most of the salt settles at the bottom of the bowl). Now plate them up and start the taste test!

The final stage and the test
So I tested them. Here are my findings:

Yukon Gold - More potato flavour, much more user-friendly in preparation, nice and crisp right out the fryer, but deteriorated to sogginess very quickly. Interior was a robust, smooth potato texture. Crust was okay.

Russet - Potato flavour more subtle, difficult to handle due to their delicacy, however, they had the most amazing crust - an audibly crunch in the mouth. The interior was soft and fluffy - no hint of mealiness at all. After 15 minutes, they were still crisp and palatable. After one full hour, I was able to crunch away on them and although a bit cold, they were still crispy and delicious. Damn, they were good.

The Russet Chips - trust me, they are as crispy as they look
So there you have it. The russet is the winner and the closest approximation to a Meris Piper; empirical research at it's best. I also know that the patrons at the Toronto Underground Market will enjoy these fries. I will be spending many hours peeling, chipping, boiling and frying to make this happen. With all that work, how could it NOT be the perfect chip?

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