by Chris Cowland –
My mother was not the best cook in the world. Her repertoire consisted of egg and chips, beans and chips, and for the weekend, egg, bacon, beans and chips. In post-war Britain, 99% of the populace would deep fry with lard, but I remember that in the early 1960s cooking oil became available. Mum really upped her repertoire with this, and our clogged arteries breathed a sigh of relief.
One day when I was around 10, mum was in the kitchen, and she called me through using my full name: “Christopher.” I was normally “Chris,” but this formal nomenclature signified that I was in deep trouble. “What have you done with my cooking oil?” she demanded, pointing at the empty pot sitting on the open oven door. “Nothing, mum,” I answered. Right then, with the perfect timing of a Hollywood actor, the dog walked in behind me looking close to death, literally green at the gills. I let her out into the yard, and announced a few seconds later to my mother that I had found her cooking oil.
Our village was right beside the River Thames just upstream of Windsor. A towpath along the Thames led to the neighbouring villages of Dorney Reach, Bray and Maidenhead. Most weekends I would head off exploring on my bicycle, and Bray was one of my favourite spots, mainly because it had several lovely old pubs: The Ringers; the 15th-century Hinds Head; and the Crown. All three of these are now owned by the famous chef Heston Blumenthal. He converted The Ringers into The Fat Duck restaurant, voted number one of the world’s 50 best restaurants in 2005. I have several of Heston’s recipe books, and my mum would have loved his famous triple-cooked chips:
1. Place cut chips into a sieve under running water for five minutes to remove starch.
2. Put cold tap water in a large saucepan and add the potatoes. Heat at medium and simmer until the chips are almost falling apart (approximately 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the potato).
3. Carefully remove the cooked chips and place them on a cooling rack to dry out. Place in the freezer for at least one hour to remove more moisture.
4. Heat a deep-fat fryer or a deep pan no more than half filled with oil to 265°. Fry the chips in small batches until a light crust forms (approximately five minutes), then remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
5. Put the potatoes on a cooling rack and place in the freezer again for at least one hour.
6. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 355° and fry the chips until golden (approximately seven minutes). Drain and sprinkle with sea salt.
I have my own version that I think comes pretty darn close, and takes way less time:
1. Scrub a couple of potatoes – I prefer Kennebec or regular Russets – and microwave them for about five minutes.
2. Cut them in half while still piping hot, and then into segments like an orange. Leave them to steam and dry for a few minutes.
3. Deep fry in oil or duck fat at 355° until brown and crispy, strain and dry off on paper towels, and then season with ground salt and a dash of Spike. Enjoy!