So, my inaugural piece proved popular – even within minutes of going up people were clamouring for more. “You’ve missed loads of chips you wankshaft do it properly!” they cried. But between this and x number of likes, reacts, retweets and views, I take this all as acceptance, love and a clear invitation to eat a fuck load of chips specifically for this article.
Chinese takeaway chips
Chips from the Chinese take away, an odd request and an experience that it must be said I did have. Once and once only. There was a time, concurrent to being able to read the menu for myself, that I started to long for items other than our standard go-tos of chicken chow mein or sweet and sour chicken. Much more fascinating offerings caught my eye, exotic wonders such as chicken and sweetcorn soup, pickled eggs and chips with gravy.
Not wanting to get too far off topic, the soup was literally a polystyrene cup of Bachelors with bits of Green Giant chucked in, the pickled egg (possibly most longed for and oft requested) had a dead and flattened fly in with it. It was washed, I had a bite, it was a dry boiled egg that tasted slightly of vinegar. My dad finished it.
And the chips and gravy? Well I recall the typical foil packaging with the frilly corners, bending them open and sliding back the card lid to reveal tightly packed thick cut chips in a solidified brown jelly. The chips themselves were not fully cooked through, being as they were still hard to the bite. The expectation of meat flavoured fluffy goodness was dashed with a gelatinous, rubbery crunch. I learned the vital lesson that day that buying outside of a takeaway’s remit is risky at best. Except when we bought pain anglais in Paris, that was disgusting but hilarious.
How “real” can these be when they’re called ‘fries’ rather than ‘chips’? A good question and one that I won’t answer. Instead let’s start talking about these bizarre salted sticks.
In the 80s they came in three sizes: small, medium and large. Medium and large can be grouped together, being both of the red free standing cup variety, from which the fries would proudly stand like a group of thin nudists in a designer lift.
Small, however, was the depressingly tiny greaseproof bag. Like an airline sick bag for Action Man. When you go to McDonald’s you’re buying the image and experience as much as the “food” itself. Any child wants the shiny red ones, the weird box that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. But of course, that’s not what you get. You get your salted potato-like canes from cheap white paper. These clearly taste worse than the very same fries from the better packaging that the rich kids are enjoying on the table opposite.
There’s not much more to be said about these, they are, by their nature, utterly standardised; any McDonald’s in the country will have them the same length, thickness and sodium level (74.8% of overall content). They’re okay, they would have to be as the staple side of a multinational restaurant chain. They’re never going to be anything particularly special, no one’s heading down there just for a designer lift’s worth of solidified saline and they’re certainly never going to be “real”. Plus Happy Meals have replaced them with fruit now, and instead of a toy there’s a pedometer. It warns you if the actor playing Ronald is on a register.
Air fried chips
So that brings us around to my present chip of choice. It’s debatable as to how “real” it might be considered; it certainly holds none of the romance or mystique of the chip shop chips of yore. Nothing ever could. Though being the logical nostalgic that I am, I’m given to reflect on which is objectively better and I have to say in every conceivable way what comes next is by far and away the best chip I have ever had. I realise, even as I write this, that if the replies to the first article caused rumblings for the chips that were omitted, the following statement may well start a flame war the likes of which we haven’t seen since AOL was admitted to Usenet. Or maybe no one will care because it’s just two slightly different ways of frying potatoes.
So what do I feel is in fact objectively the best chip? My answer – and I hasten to add this is not an official title that might be gainfully disputed and overturned by general consensus – is the air fried chip. In my case courtesy of the Actifry, other brands are available. It says a lot for how invested people are in this basic food item that I feel the need to post a disclaimer regarding this. Upon telling people this in person (in the recent past) I have been met cacophonous groans and accusations, “Oh THOSE things?! You can probably only get six chips in them!” “Awww, bet they can’t beat REAL chips”, “What’s them point in getting one of those them? It’ll just gather dust”, “Fuck off with your bastard air-fryer you utter cunt mallet!”. One of these is something of an exaggeration – you can only fit five chips into one. But generally speaking there is an air of derision and suspicion around this, probably because it’s new, unfamiliar and a tad pricey.
I was first introduced to them by a friend and I accepted them with no small amount of suspicion of my own. Mainly as I was being offered food in someone else’s house and you are bound by manners to eat it and look like you’re enjoying it regardless of quality or actual poison.
Said friend had previously promised me a “lump free” mashed potato experience, having been appalled by my preference for Smash (yes, really). Of course I instantly found a lump and spent the next 12 months looking at her with the same suspicion that a dog regards a vacuum cleaner, as though at any time she might fire up and attempt to trick me into consuming more black tinged tumours ensconced in purported puree.
It was with such concern that I accepted the proffered bowl, full to the brim with thick golden brown chips. I sighed, biting into the first, expecting to be greeted by undercooked rubber or cloying cardboard. I was denied any reason to complain, all thought went from my mind as I set about stuffing said chips into my face with both hands.
I’ve never looked back since (the fusion of the vertebrae in my neck being an unforeseen side effect but I still highly recommend them).
Chip pan chips
I spoke purely from personal experience in the first piece, childhood experience, nostalgic experience. Such is the remit of this dear blog. And perhaps too subtly, the subtext was: my parents didn’t cook so much as… heat things. So no, the apparent wonderment of the chip pan was lost to me, never to be experienced within the golden years of my youth. My only experience of the chip pan was two fold:
Firstly, they were the single biggest cause of fires in all the world. More so than matches, petrol or Keith from The Prodigy. So you had as much chance of ending up singing a song with Wellyphant as you did to get a tasty fried tea. All could be cured with a wet tea towel though: when the chip pan, inevitably, burst into an instant inferno, lying a damp cloth across the top would make everything well again.
Secondly, they made other people’s houses smell incredibly common. Or so I believed to be the general source of the appalling odour that would assault my nostrils when I visited friends. A heady trifecta of aromas cigarettes, damp and grease.
This somewhat put me off the concept, though in retrospect I may have been told that chip pans caused this smell to dissuade me from asking for anything more complex than requiring an oven for a set time.
For this article I threw down the gauntlet and started making enquiries as to whether or not we might actually have a chip pan. I was reliably informed that we did not, as they take an insane amount of oil that has to stay in there. I was also told to stop trying to make a mess of the kitchen and/or burn the house down. The wet flannel I produced at this point only resulted in getting a look.
So I called up my mother to ask if she had one, I always seemed to recall that there was one, complete with basket, but it was simply never used. Apparently in the intervening years she has got herself a deep fat fryer, I assume this is the next best thing and will quiet the yearning masses’ need for me to fill myself with needless carbs.
So upon asking her to make me some chips in said fryer she immediately suggested doing oven chips in it. I attempted to explain that this would entirely defeat the purpose of the exercise, but apparently she’s still working her way through same yellow label bag we had 30 years ago.
So I volunteered to put in the “hard work” and peel and chip the potatoes (run them through my food processor because fuck it, the apple can’t be arsed to fall far from the tree).
In the end the component I needed for the food processor was in the dishwasher (because also fuck washing by hand too). So I picked up a knife and did this:
Not bad for a first time.
Duly boxed up and over to my mother’s where she had dutifully just done an oil change on the fryer.
So in they went, on it was switched and common as muck the house soon smelled. That part hadn’t been a lie it would seem.
Within around 15 minutes these were birthed to the world:
It must be stated that I went into this with the lowest of expectations so I was incredibly surprised at how these came out. Colour can of course be deceptive, for starters elsewhere in the world it’s spelled ‘color’, for another thing few people realise The Big Yellow Teapot was in fact orange.
You’ve either just Googled it to check or gone straight to the comments to textually call my sanity, sight and worthiness of life into question. So to the former group who are still with us and got the joke, the point is these were some good looking chips.
Yes, I’m stalling for time and trying to divert attention away from the fact that not only did I have home fried chips for the first time but that yes, they were bloody lovely. The chorus of “I told you so” may now begin, but hopefully you’ll run fowl of the Orange Teapot crowd coming the other way and then the police will kettle the lot of you.
If you want more from Patrick, check out his podcast sketch show This, That and The Other at ttato.co.uk.