- The best chippers in Melbourne
- Sydney's best chips
- Adam Liaw's guide to making steak fries
- Heston's perfect roast potatoes
In the annals of world cuisine, has there ever been a thing so abject yet so wonderful as the chip? The chip – the hot chip, not the crisp, its bastard cousin once removed – is essential. It is the culinary handmaiden to steak, to fish, to the footy. It's a seemingly simple subject, but scratch the crisp-golden surface and it's a mighty big topic where a little bit of thought goes a long way.
It was Heston Blumenthal, of course, who upon deciding the chip needed to be put through the scientific wringer, went off and invented the triple-cooked chip ("The first recipe I could call my own," he has reportedly dubbed it). The chip world's answer to Joel Robuchon's mash, the triple-cooked chip has ever since been colonising top restaurants one menu at a time, often referred to poshly as "thrice-cooked" (possibly to justify the price).
But when it comes to making the perfect chip, should we trust a man who confessed to Good Food he hadn't heard of chicken salt? Here's our rough guide to the perfect chip.
The beauty of the pursuit of chip perfection is that it doesn't involve exotic ingredients. Let's start with Heston. His Melbourne kitchen at Dinner uses the Sebago spud for the famous triple-cooked chip. He also says you want a "glass-like crust".
Mmm, shattery …
So why the Sebago? The secret to good chipping is to use potatoes that are floury rather than waxy – they're denser and have more dry starch in the cells which, during cooking, separates and becomes dry and fluffy (thanks, Harold McGee).
Sebago aside, varieties begging to be chipped include the Royal Blue, Pontiac, Coliban, Bintje, King Edward, Russet Burbank and Desiree.
"Russets without a doubt," says Melbourne chef Paul Wilson. "They are long tubular shaped potatoes. The skin is terrific for frying too; their low sugar content makes them the perfect foolproof chip."
Some say it's best to buy older spuds that have been on the shelf for at least a month (just ask your local greengrocer to confess to geriatric potatoes). And it's best to buy unwashed potatoes, as the industrial washing process can make potatoes absorb water – and water, as we all know, is the enemy of the crisp chip.
Animal fats have made a resurgence – duck fat is le bomb in some circles – and even beef dripping is getting a look-in with people who laugh in the face of cholesterol. Just remember animal fats burn easily. Quay head chef and owner of Melbourne's Merricote, Rob Kabboord, says he used to be a beef dripping kind of guy "(back) in my Euro days and it makes for a really nice crisp chippy, but I prefer the cleaner flavour of chips cooked in oil".
Wilson concurs. "It's certainly delicious to cook in animal fats, but I like rice bran oil for wellbeing reasons. The neutral flavour and the oil's low burning point and shelf life means it can be reused and the potato's flavour is considered." Other oils to consider are groundnut, cottonseed and sunflower oil.
File this one under "personal preference". Kabboord is Dutch, which means one thing: he is patriotically sworn to defend the skinny fry against its wider interloper (and let's not forget the essential paper cone for serving). With their lack of uniformity, hand-cut chips look more pleasingly rustic and you can chamfer the ends – cut them on an angle – so they don't look like fence posts (Google "Jenga chip" for angry online dissertations on this despised architectural chip). Aim for roughly equal length and thickness so they cook at the same rate (about 10 to 15 millimetres is a good rule of thumb). As for the eternal skin-on versus skin-off debate: It comes down to preference, really, but we should point out that skin on can veer dangerously into wedge territory. Shannon Bennett's Vue empire does chips with the skin kept only on the ends, which seems an excellent rustic compromise.
Triple cooking – is it a crock? No, says Kabboord, who serves triple-cooked chips (blanched in water, cooled, then cooked twice in oil, once at low heat and finally at high heat) at Merricote. "The triple cook just gets a better crispy outside and a fluffier middle than the twice-cooked chip – so yes, definitely triple cooked," he says. If you're feeding a small army and have reached Peak Potato, you should keep the peeled, cut spuds in water before cooking so they don't oxidise. According to Wilson, triple cooking is best when you're going for a fatter chip. For skinny fries, double cooking will be enough.
Rob Kabboord's triple-cooked chips
1. Cut your chips – Kabboord prefers to use a mandolin.
2. Rinse them to get rid of some of the starch.
3. Put chips in lightly salted boiling water and cook until soft (about five to six minutes).
4. Drain and let them dry a little (Blumenthal's version first chills them in the freezer to get rid of as much moisture as possible) then put them in hot oil at 140 degrees Celsius. Cook in small batches so the temperature of the oil doesn't drop too much. "They will take another six minutes or so. You can check them – there should be no crunch or colour yet, but they will be cooked and soft all the way through. You can then reserve them without going grey (oxidising) in the fridge until you are ready for them."
5. To finish, fry until golden in oil heated to about 180 degrees Celsius. Put them on absorbent paper to soak up any excess fat, then garnish with salt.
Pimp Your Chip
Salt is the chip's best friend, and to be a good friend it needs to be a good salt, such as Murray River or Maldon – blitz it so you don't get little salt rocks falling to the bottom.
Chips also enjoy the company of, in no particular order: Old Bay multipurpose seasoning (it's a blend of mustard, paprika, celery salt and more), chipotle salt, Sriracha, mayonnaise and gravy.
Blumenthal can't decide between ketchup (that's tomato sauce) and mayonnaise, so he's invented "ketchup-mayo – I love ketchup-mayo. Also malt vinegar".
How he prefers his chips is all about context. "With fish and chips, (I prefer) soggy chips – they're soggy because they're all wrapped in paper. And a chip butty. I love thick white bloomer covered in butter, with hot chips. That was what I had as a kid."
Paul Wilson, being British, loves simple sea salt and Sarson's malt vinegar: "It's a very English treat. For a cheffy thing I like to flavour my salts with mortar and pestle-ground baked herbs like rosemary. Chicken stock cubes mixed with salt is always a crowd pleaser."
Kabboord sticks to the Dutch brief and prefers mayonnaise instead of tomato sauce but also enjoys getting fancy with smoked salt. "This gets made for us in Holland; there is a smokehouse where they smoke eel and other fish and they leave a tray of salt flakes in the smoker for about three months and it is just delicious, umami-rich salt, mixed with a little freshly cracked black pepper and some dried parsley." He also suggests making truffle salt by shaving fresh truffle into salt flakes.
And don't forget the Aussie favourite, chicken salt. For Heston's benefit, it's the umami salt bomb that contains actual chicken (roasted, braised then dried). And it's delicious.