Sunday, August 9, 2009

When the chips are down.

There is something incredibly gutsy about one dish restaurants, places that serve up one meal to all comers. The integrity of the ingredients, the harmony of the accompaniments and the skill with which the food is prepared is starkly brought in to focus when there are no other trappings on the menu to distract.

Le Entrocote in Bordeaux is one such place. On a recent trip for Vinexpo, I spent the day wandering around the small city centre, eating peaches that tasted like sunshine, practicing my feeble French and people watching over small cups of smokey black coffee. After a day of baguette, coffee and tiny pastries served with chantilly cream, I was fit to burst. That evening I had a late dinner at this airy terraced eatery. The singular dish is thinly sliced meat served with a simple leaf and walnut salad and an endless supply of frites. The meat was tender, well cooked and tasty tasty tasty. Since I often over complicate recipes, a great lesson in simplicity. The winner was the meat, succulent and swimming in buttery sauce, but the frites were also something special, uniform wedges of crunchiness with soft fluffy interiors. The perfect accompaniment, they put me in mind of Heston Blumenthal, and his search for the perfect chip.
I have been reading In Search of Perfection lately, and marvelling at the man's passion and sensitivity for food and the science behind it. I am awed by his unrelenting curiosity and determination to discover which of the variables of cooking result in the 'perfect' version of a dish. Interestingly, reading his account of each search I was struck by how 'perfection' is relative. For me, the thick chips, softened by being sodden in vinegar are a winner, for Mr 9BR, the crispy tail ends at the bottom of the paper, crunchy and salty are the best.
I recently made these chips for Mr 9BR, who raved about them, and considerately made no complaints about the two hours + they took to materialise. I would suggest doing the first two cookings in advance, perhaps the day before to cut down on the total time this side dish takes.

Thrice cooked Chips
1.2kg potatoes, such as Charlotte or Belle de Fontenay-I used Maris Piper
1 litre groundnut oil
Maldon salt

1. With a sharp knife, cut the potatoes into rectangles and then cut them into chips about 1cm thick. HB himself advises to 'Try to keep them uniform in thickness' but I liked the variation that the little skinny one at the end of the spud slice gave to the pile of cooked chips.
2. As soon as the chips are cut, put them into a bowl under cold running water for 10 minutes or so to rinse off some of the starch, alternatively, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes then drain.
3. Next, add 3L of water and 2 tsp salt to a large pot and bring to the boil. Plunge in the drained potatoes. Bring back to the boil and simmer very gently until the point of a knife will penetrate the chips easily.
4. Very carefully lift the potatoes out of the water, using a slotted spoon, and place them on a tray. Allow them to steam until they are cool, then place them in the fridge until cold. The chips will harden when cold.
5. Heat the groundnut oil to a temperature of 130C and carefully plunge in the chips as they may splutter. After a while, they will take on a drier appearance (do not let them brown at all). When this happens, they have finished their second cooking process; drain them, let them cool to room temperature, and put them into the fridge. When cold, they are ready for their final cooking.
6. Heat the groundnut oil to a temperature of 180C. Carefully plunge in the chips and cook until golden brown. This may take 8-10 minutes.
7. Drain and season, they should already be quite salty. Sprinkle with loads of vinegar.
8. Serve. (Brown paper or newspaper wrapping optional!)


Ciara said...

I made these last night, only I used olive oil instead of groundnut and they were perfect. I had them with Mexican Bean burgers and an avocado salad, and paddy drowned his in ReggaeReggae jerk sauce. I prefer mine doused in cracked black pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Everyone has their own idea of perfection when it comes to the almighty chip.
Thanks for the recipe, awesome!

Helen C. said...

If you're ever looking for something to do in the Christchurch area, head to Leo Burdock's and buy a bottle of their homemade malt vinegar. It's almost better than the chips themselves.

'NEEN at 9 BEAN ROW said...

I am such an acid fiend Helen (the vinegar type not the illicit type). Thanks for the tip!

Cookie said...

Maris Piper for chips? mmm I dunno about that one :-/ I'll try these out with a different spud like a pink or a King Edward maybe. Comber aren't bad either. Like spuds? Me? Don't be silly... ahem.

'NEEN at 9 BEAN ROW said...

I like the Maris Piper texture, but Kerrs pinks are definitely the best.

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