Sunday, 26 April 2009

Chips


There is a danger here of me going back on my own advice. I am conscious of the fact that I am encouraging more positive comments about pubs. When discussing chips in pubs it would be all too easy to focus on the poorly produced versions of this magnificent British culinary carbohydrate delicacy. Chips however, when done right are delicious and go well with many food types.

They are most often produced very cost effectively and in great volumes in the good old fashioned fish and chip shop. When made on the property, blanched in low temperature oil, chilled and then flash fried in 180oC oil they are divine and worth seeking out and paying a premium for. It is perhaps sad that many pubs turn their back on this food type and go instead for some kind of frozen alternative.

But hey, I'm not going to whinge, am I?

Undercooked fat chips came in for some criticism in the last post's discussion. In my mind it is not the fatness of the chip that is the problem. Indeed the fatter the chip the less oil that is absorbed and therefore healthier. Leaving the skin on is in no way less labour intensive as it requires some poor kitchen porter to stand scrubbing all that mud off the damn things. Leaving the skin on also adds to the healthiness, and that's no bad thing.

Yes, any food that is poorly cooked is a problem. It is a problem in many pubs and indeed the issues of ensuring quantity food establishments cook their food well is a headache for many pub operators. An issue I might come back to in a later post.

For us we've all but stopped doing chips. This is perhaps partly, if I were to be honest, a snobbery thing. But equally there are issues surrounding logistics and safety that are becoming increasingly problematic.

To make money out of chips you need to sell bucket loads of them, literally. It requires somebody to be out in the back yard with a machine that "rumbles" the potatoes1. A potato rumbler is a machine that has a rotating turntable in the bottom, rough and wavy, that tumbles the said root crop around a rough coated drum. It takes a good proportion of the skin off the tuber. If the kitchen staff really care they then "eye" the product by hand to remove bad bits and the indentations that the rumbler cannot get to. The potato rumbler is a heavy and expensive piece of machinery that is a serious investment for a food operation. Peeling potatoes by hand is not generally cost effective in a commercial environment when bucket loads of chips are required.

Most places then chip the potatoes with another machine. Often this is hand driven and simply forces the starchy object through an array of cross2 blades. We now have raw chips but have used around £2000 pounds worth of equipment to get them. Because of the combination of equipment cost, space requirements and staffing costs, many pubs rely on frozen chips; such a shame, but completely understandable.

To get really good chips, ones that can be served quickly, they should first be cooked from raw in low temperature oil, around 140-160oC until soft but still quite white. A process often called blanching, possibly incorrectly in the minds of some culinary experts. The chips are then put in gastronorm trays, cooled and chilled until required during service. They can then quickly be crisped and browned in very hot oil before being either arranged or plonked on a plate for the customer. For service, if done right, they are better than frozen chips in as much as they finish quicker and better. Frozen chips requires the oil to be able to thaw and brown the chip all in one go, often causing the oil temperature to drop too low for well browned chips. This can often be the reason for undercooked chips in pubs.

So, if you find a pub that does proper chips look after it. They exist and often aren't the ones with gastro desires. But just remember all the work some poor sod put in to make them. There's no short cut3 for good chips.

Fryers are a big source of fires in the catering trade. I know of several that have occurred locally to me. Some insurance companies are stipulating stringent fire precautions as a result and because of this, the fact that our fryer is on its last legs and something of a hazard by itself and because our chipper is nearly completely useless we've stopped doing chips. The investment required to get up to scratch would see a significant payback period.

Having said that, when we decide to make chips we make the best. Today Ann decided, for old times sake, that she'd make us chips for family lunch. That was handy really, as I wanted some good pics for this post.

My lunch was somewhat scrummy today, consisting of a Jenga tower of chips, pheasant scraps and orange and turmeric sauce, the chips were just as good as ever, despite being in a poncy tower. No vegetables though, if I end up dying of scurvy, please have a go at Ann won't you?

1 When I send somebody to "rumble" some potatoes I'm waiting for the cheekiest of staff to ask why I think they might have any deep dark secrets.

2Or perhaps just slightly miffed.

3Indeed chips must be cut in the long direction. I had one member of staff, bless him, who laid the potatoes sideways to cut them. The chips were no longer than 1". After all, we all know the bigger the chip the better. In the words of the Quartermaster "Chips, chips as big as battle ships"

20 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

I know this comment is politically incorrect, but chips in British pubs are almost invariably far too big and undercooked. I like the French "allumettes". Burger King reliably do the best chips I find in the UK - they are properly cooked and crispy.

Woolpack Dave said...

Ah well Curmudgeon, you've never had chips made by me. All chips should be crispy, I have no argument on that one.

Artist formerly known as Wurst, CEO APRK said...

I like chips in pita with chili und garlic sauce!

Woolpack Dave said...

Wurst, that sounds like a great multinational chip buttie to me.

Tandleman said...

My local does chips from scratch.

Woolpack Dave said...

Tandleman, I so much need to visit your local, it sounds perfect.

Paul Garrard said...

Curmudgeon you are spot on, BK do make the best chips. I'm no a fan of the fat chip although wedges with the skin on are usually okay.

Woolpack Dave said...

BK chips beat wedges with the skin on? oh dear, you guys.....

Jeff Pickthall said...

Nearly a thousand words on chips - you're a genius Dave!

Tandleman said...

Dave - It isn't perfect, but it's pretty good. I must admit though the potatoes sometimes come re-rumbled, but by hand.

Woolpack Dave said...

Jeff, I sort of hope I have something of a knowledge on the subject. My first proper job was to make chips.

Tandleman, OK, nothing is perfect, but double fried chips are the best, I don't care what Paul and Curmudgeon think.

Tandleman said...

That should have said pre-rumbled and cut by hand. Flipping lap top.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I remember sitting out back one day, rumbling and slicing. I assume it was on account of my deep dark secrets.

knutalbert said...

I think it's all frozen stuff here in Norway.
We went to a chippy near Old Trafford when we were in Manchester a few weeks ago. A huge portion cooked to perfection at just £1, enough for the whole family to feast on!

Paul Garrard said...

"BK chips beat wedges with the skin on? oh dear, you guys....."
I know, not really the thing to mention in polite conversation but sometimes one just wants cor blimey rather than Cordon Bleu

Woolpack Dave said...

BUL180, I forgot you also learnt how to make chips.

Knutalbert, mainly the best chips are from chippies, and at very reasonable prices as well. Mind you, you can get awful chippies as well.

Paul, the thing with BK et al is consistency, you reliably get something acceptable. Mind you, the same could be said of smooth flow....

Leigh said...

i agree - when done correctly (I personally like both thin and thick - no inbetween), and fried in animal fat (apologies), they are a thing of beauty. And great beer snacking - if not kind to the belly.

Jeffrey said...

I was under the impression most pubs that don't use frozen chips hand-cut them. That's what we do.

Having said that, we have been using chilled (but not frozen) pre-cut french fries to accompany our moules mariniere recently, and have found customers now want them instead of the chunky, hand-cut variety...

Curmudgeon said...

I had some superb frites with mayonnaise in the Café Belge in Eastbourne last week. In my view how chips should be. If only the service had been a tenth as good :-(

Woolpack Dave said...

Golly, commenting on old posts, there's a man with a firm opinion.
I disagree with you, chips with mayonnaise are not chips, but that's opinions for you.