When I was growing up my mother didn’t cook much; she had to work and to be honest, she wasn’t one of those moms inclined to slave away in the kitchen. For tea she preferred to give us money to buy a snack, and almost always, that snack was fish and chip shop chips from around the corner. It was just about the best thing I could eat as a kid. Now that I’m old enough to be trusted with a deep fat fryer, I make my own at home for my kids!
Why are the British so obsessed with fish and chips, you may ask? It’s hard to say. It’s one of those things that we all love, but if you ask why, there’s really no ready answer. But let’s face it: deep fried potatoes with just the right seasoning are hard to argue with.
Tradition and Nostalgia of Chip Shop Chips
As far as I can gather, chippy chips go back all the way to the early 1860s when a Mr. Lees from Mossley decided to deep fried fish and potatoes to the menu in his eatery. They were obviously a big hit; not only did his shop thrive, others across the land copied the recipe and added interesting variations. The basic ingredients are still used to make one of the most delectable, typically English meals to this day.
As I researched a brief history of homemade British chips, I was curious: how were they made back then? Apparently not very differently from today. Potatoes would be cut into wedges and deep fried in hot oil until they were soft on the inside and a little brown and crispy on the outside. They were a bit oilier than the standard fare you get in a decent fish and chips shop today. Over time, home cooks and restaurant owners discovered that if they cut the potatoes into thicker wedges they absorbed less oil as they cooked.
What do chip shops fry in?
While at home, the usual choice can vary based on dish, chip shop chips need to use specific types of oil to ensure that they maintain a traditional taste that British customers expect.
In most chip shops, you’ll find that they are using vegetable oil. Luckily for us, it’s pretty widely available outside of commercial circles too! Chip shops tend to go for vegetable oil because it’s a fairly inoffensive flavour. It allows you to slather your chips in an array of chip shop favourite sauces. Usually curry sauce or gravy are the top choice.
The reasons that chip shops tend not to go for other other oils are quite simple. Firstly, a lot of other oils are far more expensive and simply not worth their while. You might find that some higher end chip shops use canola oil, but if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
Secondly, there are quite a lot of oils that would fail to deliver the same texture and taste. Not all oils are born equal! For example, using olive oil to fry traditional style chip shop chips would be a poor choice. Not only because of the very different taste that it imparts onto the potato, but also, because it would affect the all-important crunch!
Are homemade chips a healthy choice?
I try my best to provide my family healthy meals but from time to time (and by that I mean once or twice a week), homemade British chips, or homemade crisps, will make it on the menu. I have learnt how to make chips in the oven, how to make crispy chips, how to make beef dripping chips, how to make great chip shop batter and of course I have perfected the art of how to cut potatoes into chips. I know just how hot to get the oil, and how long I should fry so that each chip comes out perfectly crispy but soft at the same time.
It’s taken a lot of trial and error getting my chip shop chip recipe perfect. I like to throw a little twist in every now and then, maybe paprika or a very light batter. However, nothing beats the classic. Here’s my fool-proof, can’t-go-wrong, tastes-like-home chip shop chip recipe. Try saying that five times fast.
Chip Shop Chips
- Deep Fat Fryer
- Tea Towel
- Paring Knife
- Potato Peeler (Optional)
- 500 gram Potatoes
- Oil of your preference
- Preheat your deep fat fryer to around 150 celsius.
- Wash and cut your potatoes into chip shapes. I like mine about 1.5cm thick but if you're into chunkier chips then you might want to try 2-3cm instead. It's entirely up to you if you want to peel your potatoes first. Most traditional chippies will peel them first, but personally I like skin-on (it's less fussy too).
- Bundle up your chip-cut potatoes in a tea towel and try to remove as much excess moisture as you can from them.
- Add the potatoes to the oil until they're softened all the way through.
- Turn the deep fat fryer to the highest temperature setting possible and leave the chips in until they reach the optimal crunchiness.
What do perfect homemade British chips look like?
When it comes to good English-style chips there are certain things you should be aiming for. They should be golden and crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. If you fry them properly they will have delicate, crispy edges that are heavenly to bite into. They also shouldn’t be too oily. If you get the oil temperature right and the potatoes cut into the right size they will not absorb oil as they cook. Some people like to make plain chips; I like to add a spice or two just to give them that extra kick.
Homemade chip shop chips…should you or shouldn’t you?
It’s really up to you; if you don’t mind indulging your taste buds with fried potatoes from time to time they are the perfect way to fill up.