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Focus on chips: fry hard

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Focus on chips: fry hard
Noli Dinkovski looks at ways to cash in on the nation's favourite starchy snack.

Keep it crispy

Newstead Sawyer believes the secret to a successful chip is its crispiness. And as the owner of the establishment that won Best Independent Pub/Restaurant at this year’s Choice Chip Awards, it would be very difficult to disagree with him.

“We’re sticklers for always sending out very crispy chips,” explains Sawyer, who along with partner Hannah Brown, runs the Seagrave Arms in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire.

The Seagrave Arms - Choice Chip Awards winner (1)

“To keep them crispy, we treat them like roast potatoes. After they are blanched off on a really low heated oil, we ruffle them up – like you do with potatoes for a Sunday roast – before laying them flat on a tray,” he says.

“We then put we put them in the fridge before frying them for about five to six minutes at 180°C.”

The chef says he has spent a considerable amount of time experimenting with chips in the past to get the variety that works for him.

“We use Maris Piper potatoes when they are in season, but when they run out as they tend to at this time of the year, we switch to Accords or sometimes use Roosters,” he explains.

“Everyone goes on about triple-cooking chips, but we believe our way is better. We just season them with a little bit of salt, and they are good to go.”

Sawyer says the Choice Chip Award is on prominent display at the bar, and sales of chips have increased by as much as 25% since picking up the accolade in February.

“We saw the award mentioned in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser​, and we thought we would give it a go,” he says. “We didn’t expect to win it, but to be voted number one by the public was really satisfying.”

Go for gluten-free

The team behind Cheltenham-based chippie Simpsons, which was runner-up in the Independent Takeaway Fish and Chip Shop of the Year category at the National Fish and Chip Awards 2015, bases its offer on the ‘no nonsense’ ingredients of fish, potato and batter, and nothing more.

While partner James Ritchie claims the chips are always gluten-free, the restaurant and takeaway still holds a wheat and gluten-free fish and chip frying day on the last Monday of every month so coeliacs can be assured that everything on the menu is safe to eat.

“Chips are usually gluten-free, unless you use a coating or fry them in the same oil as products that contain gluten,” he explains.

“On gluten-free day, the menu is restricted to only gluten-free products, including fish, fishcakes, prawns, sausages and onion rings. It's time-consuming but worth it when you hear stories of people thinking they'd never be able to eat fish and chips again,” Richie adds.

According to Richie, a good chip should always have a fluffy centre and a crisp edge – and to achieve that all-year-round, chefs shouldn’t be afraid to switch potatoes.

“We've been frying Markies for a few months, but we've just switched back to Maris Piper as potatoes are very seasonal when it comes to frying,” he says. “It's important to use a floury potato, as a sweeter potato will caramelise and you'll end up with soggy brown chips.”

Gluten-free offer

New research has revealed almost 60% of people don’t realise that not all chips are gluten-free, meaning operators could be inadvertently serving gluten to coeliacs.

And with a survey highlighting that 70% of people opt for chips as their preferred gluten-free side out-of-home, caterers need to take a second look at their potato sides and the gluten that could potentially be hiding.

Supplier Aviko’s most popular products, including its Premium Fries range, are produced in a dedicated gluten-free factory, offering an easy way to meet the demand for coeliac friendly dishes. New ‘Connoisseur fries’ from Lamb Weston are also gluten-free.

Take on a chippy

Having spent 15 years in the fish and chip shop trade, Steve Barker knew it would be a shame to let all that expertise go to waste. So when he – along with wife Jennifer and daughters Katie and Lucy – took on the Fox Hall Inn two years ago, he decided to put some of that knowledge to good use. 

The freehold, which sits on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, in East Layton, is a pub, fish and chip restaurant and takeaway rolled into one.

The pub’s menu includes a ‘from the fryer’ section, which, along with the more familiar cod and chips (£6.95-£10.95) and haddock and chips (£8.95-£10.95), offers the likes of cod bites and chips for £7.95 and homemade fishcakes and chips (£7.50). There is also a substantial takeaway menu.

“Our restaurant and takeaway chips are made in exactly the same way – using Maris Piper potatoes and fried in beef dripping,” explains Jennifer Baker.

The pub offers homemade tartare sauce, which Baker claims is highly popular, and the light crispy batter on the homemade fishcakes is said to go down a treat as well.

“Ensure potatoes are dry before being fried in very hot fat, as they are more likely to be crispy that way,” she adds.

Think about thicker-cuts​ 

Given the universal appeal of the humble chip, it can sometimes be easy to forget that there are so many other ways to skin, or not skin, a potato.

The Five Alls, in Filkins, Oxfordshire, which was reopened in 2013 by chef Sebastian Snow and his wife Lana, offers customers the option of Cajun fries or thrice-cooked truffled wedges on its bar menu for £3.95.

Deputy head chef Ben Merrylees says the thrice-cooked wedges are made on the premises using Maris Piper potatoes.

“They are blanched in boiling water until they are at perfect softness, then they are drained and allowed to fluff up and slightly cool before they get their first blanching in oil at around 170°C,” he explains.

“When they become nicely golden brown we remove them from the oil and leave to cool completely. We then put them in oil at 200°C until perfectly crispy on the outside. Finally, they are sprinkled with truffle oil,” Merrylees adds.

Made from a supplied chip product, the pub’s Cajun fries are fried at around 200°C to make them as crispy as possible. They are then sprinkled with Cajun spice and a blend of herbs, before being seasoned with salt and pepper.

“Cajun fries are a great bar snack on their own, or they can go with our other dishes such as burgers, fish and chips or steaks,” Merrylees says.

Presentation ideas

Aviko chips
Photo courtesy of Aviko

Mohammed Essa, general manager UK & Ireland, of Aviko, says: “Presentation is key to ensure customers are enticed by the dishes on offer. Simple, but effective, presentation ideas include serving fries in portion controlled glass tankards, mini fryers, steel baskets, lined flower pots, or perhaps on stone or wood platters, which will add an element of theatre and excitement to potato products, as well as the chance to charge a more premium price.”

Ideas for kids’ menus include Tiger Fries, a mix of Aviko’s Sweet Potato Fries and premium ‘Skin-On’ Superlongs.

A real feature

Nigel Phillips, Lamb Weston UK sales director, says: “We encourage publicans to make fries a real feature on a their menus, with the varying styles and sizes in our Connoisseur range bringing choice and variation — whether they look to pair chunky fries with a fillet steak, or a gourmet burger with some rustic-style fries.”

Specialise in sauces and seasonings

While salt, vinegar, ketchup and mayonnaise will always be winning chip combinations, adding sauces and seasonings above and beyond the norm can be a great way of creating a talking-point among customers.

Newly-opened French burger restaurant Big Fernand, on London’s Tottenham Court Road, likes to add a secret seasoning to its fries, or fernandines, as they are called.

Customers can also choose from three chef-made sauces to accompany the fries. “Tonton Fernand is a sweet mayonnaise, Tata Fernande is more of a cocktail sauce and BB Fernand is our barbecue sauce,” explains Big Fernand’s UK ambassador Mathieu Durand. “Each of these are unique, and so we find all three equally popular.”

London-based pub and restaurant group Drake & Morgan also offers a variety of sauces and garnishes with its fries. The most popular option is Roman fries topped with parmesan and rosemary, and drizzled with truffle oil, says operations director Dylan Murray.

“Another popular choice are our famous cowboy fries topped with a spicy-sweet barbecue sauce,” he adds.

Award-winning chip shop Simpson’s, meanwhile, is currently experimenting with dried Scottish seaweed as a seasoning. The Cheltenham-based restaurant and takeaway was even BBC Radio 4 last weekend to talk about how the experiment went.

Curry favour with chip fans

When Richard Holmes and Benny Peverelli opened the Pint Shop in 2013, they claimed that much of their inspiration for the venue was based on the traditional beer houses of old. However, when it comes to the food offer, they have shown that they are not afraid to be influenced by modern styles.

The pub, which serves chips as a standard with steaks and spit-roast chicken, offers chips and curry sauce on its bar snacks menu for £3.50. According to Holmes, it’s proven to be a hugely popular combo.

“Customers in the bar treat it as a regular favourite,” he says. “We use Maris Piper potatoes, which we chip by hand and then double-cook. Once in a low oil, we chill them down and then cook them again in a much hotter oil, before tossing Maldon salt through them and serving.

“It’s important to use good, clean oil to get the best quality chip,” Holmes adds.

Whip up an award win

There can’t be too many occasions when a business based in Scotland has won an award in Cornwall, but that’s what happened to the Coylet Inn earlier this year.

Despite being in Dunoon, Cowall, the pub was crowned Choice Chip Awards winner for Cornwall. It seems the similarities between two names got someone confused.

“There’s probably a few people in Cornwall that are a little annoyed, but I’m happy with it as we’ve sold loads of chips off the back of it!” says owner Craig Wilson.

“Whatever may have happened, it was award based on a public vote, so I think we deserved the recognition,” he adds.

According to Wilson, the pub’s chips are made from Albert Bartlett roosters and are deep-fried in a normal vegetable oil.

“There’s no great secret to them – we just use a good potato and cook to order,” he says.

“I do often wonder if my old Falcon Dominator fryers have anything to do with the perfect chip. Even though the oil is changed regularly and the fryers’ cleaned, there must be some flavour left – like a good coffee pot,” Wilson adds.​       

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