Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chips or French fries

Cooking chips, as they are called in Ireland and other English speaking places, or French fries as they are called in America, is not too difficult. Many people are frightened by the hot oil! If you are careful and don’t take any chances with it, it’s really quite straight forward. One safety precaution is to make sure you have an extinguisher in your kitchen - I’ve had one for more than twenty years and have never had to use it, even though I make chips or French fries quite often. Safety first: NEVER, EVER leave the oil over the flame unsupervised! Monitor it all the time while you’re using it. Watch it carefully! Should you, God forbid, have a fire and no extinguisher, do NOT throw water or a towel on it. Turn off the burner and quench the flames with a pan lid. Remain calm - do not panic! If there is flame on the stove quench this with some baking soda. Until you feel confident keep a lid and some baking soda handy! Keep your eye on the hot oil at all times while cooking and you shouldn't run into any problems.

For very crisp fries: peel the potato first; after chipping soak in cold water for an hour and carefully drain to eliminate the potato starch. Dry completely before placing in the basket. I never do this and am still pleased with the results. If you are careful to slice the potato along the long side you will only have skin at either end and on a few of the outer pieces. The skin makes fries/chips soggy as does oil that is not hot enough! Immersing the potatoes three times in the hot oil is the key to great fries/chips.

I like to use Yukon gold potatoes, but others prefer plain white or red potatoes. Experiment and decide which is your favourite. I usually use one large potato and leave on the skin. Most of the nutrition in a potato is just under the skin, the rest is mainly empty carbohydrate, so it’s nutritionally best to use the whole, unpeeled potato. This recipe will serve 1 - 2 people.

You will need a deep 3 quart saucepan and a basket that fits neatly into the saucepan. A basket is highly recommended when making fries/chips. Without a basket, it takes too much time to slowly scoop the potatoes out of the fat, which results in an uneven fry.

Put the pan with the oil over a high flame while you prepare the potato. N.B.: Keep a careful eye on the oil as it heats! Move it aside if it comes to temperature before you’ve finished preparing the potato! The oil will be ready when you can see a lot of waves in it and a little smoke rising from it.

Wash the potato and cut out any dark bits. Dry and place the potato on a cutting board and slice away a thin slice along one of the longer sides.

Turn the potato onto the flat side and cut thin slices along the long side

Line up the slices in a stack and lay them horizontally. Slice through the stack to create thin, long fries/chips. This is a little tricky: do not press down too hard as you slice or the pieces will slide apart! Make sure your knife is sharp and slide it gently across the stack, pressing just enough to pass through the potato. I often remove the top piece with skin to make it easier to cut the potato, then slice that piece on its own when the stack is cut.

Place the fries/chips into the frying basket. Make sure none are stuck together so that all the hot fat can surround each piece. 

When the oil shows waves and begins to smoke, carefully lower the basket of fries into the hot oil. It will bubble and rise up around your potato slices/chips. While the frying is progressing, lay out some paper towels.

Allow the potato to fry for about 3 minutes until the slices/chips look translucent and slightly brown around the edges. Raise the basket slightly above the hot oil to check the appearance of the fries/chips. When ready remove the basket and place it on the paper towels.

Reheat the oil until it’s wavy and smoky again. Carefully lower the fries back into the oil and allow them to fry until they become more brown around the edges - about 2 minutes. Monitor the progress as described above. Remove the basket and place on the towels again. 

Reheat the oil a third time until it’s wavy and slightly smoky again. Carefully lower the basket into the hot oil  and allow to fry for another 3 minutes or until the fries are nice and brown. While they are frying you can make some aioli, if you like it.

Aioli: put a tablespoon of mayonnaise in a small container, add 1/4 tsp chopped garlic, some salt and pepper to taste and, if you like, some chili powder. Mix these well with a fork.

Once the potatoes are brown, remove the basket from the oil and place it on the paper towels again. Move the pan with the hot oil from the burner and turn off the heat.

Immediately sprinkle salt and pepper over the fries in the basket and toss them to coat evenly. Transfer to a plate, taste to check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Place the dish of aioli on the plate and add a dish of ketchup if you like. In Belgium they always serve mayonnaise with French fries and not ketchup. I like both as well as aioli, which is only fancy mayonnaise!

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