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Feature & Recipe – Frying delight: When the chips are down…

Really good looking chips (fries)
Golden, crispy & NO brown sauce!

I have a guilty secret. I’ve been coveting a piece of kitchen kit for a while, one that doesn’t always have the best reputation as far as healthy eating is concerned. Last weekend, I finally transformed my latent desire into a tangible possession, with the purchase of my first deep fryer. A bargain in the sales, of course.

Please try not to judge me, being – as I am – someone who is (usually) an exponent of eating healthily and sustainably. I’m not about to recommend we all gorge ourselves on deep-fried Mars bars at every meal. Ideally, deep fried food shouldn’t really be at the centre of anyone’s diet.

Yet there are certain recipes that simply cannot be realistically completed without resorting to immersing ingredients into boiling fat (or preferably oil). Not previously being the owner of a deep fryer has meant I have been missing out on cooking such delights as tempura, salt and pepper squid, croquetas, and “proper” chips (fries, to those of you who are west of the Atlantic).

Now before anyone butts in, I know it isn’t always necessary to have a dedicated appliance to deep fry food. But heating up oil in a big saucepan on a stove, and trying to guess how hot it is – with potential disastrous consequences – is not for me. Knowing exactly at what temperature you are frying food is really important in ensuring proper cooking, and also limits the degree of oil that will be absorbed. That’s why I am the proud owner of a shiny new frying device that allows fantastic cooking control, thanks to its nice big variable thermostat. So, having removed the packaging and given the components a good wash, my next task was to decide what I was going to fry first.

Picture of a deep fryer
Silver dream machine…

Chips! Well, it might have been an obvious choice, but these would not be just any old chips, oh no. To accompany the oxtail braised in Rioja that was at the centre of Sunday dinner, I wanted the sort of fries that came with this dish when I sampled it in Spain. They had to be golden brown and perfectly crisp on the outside, with an interior that was soft, fluffy and moist.

Now there are endless opinions on how to produce the perfect fried chip. Each favours a particular preference in relation to potato variety, frying medium, and the temperature and number of cycles involved in the cooking. Christopher Hirst’s article in The Independent about his efforts to achieve the gastronomic paragon that is the perfect chip – thankfully, without the suggested use of horse fat – provides an excellent background in relation to these.

So, having considered the options, I choose to “do a Heston” and thrice cook my chips – once par boiled in salted water and then twice fried in oil. Blumenthal’s recipe (from In Search of Perfection) is a bit involved, but it truly does produce amazing chips. I shall maybe use a little less salt in the water the next time I try it, as the blanching meant that my chunky fries certainly didn’t need any further seasoning, but that’s all part of the alchemy.

Of course, I won’t be attempting to refine the recipe for a while – health, health, health!

This recipe (thanks to Heston Blumenthal and Christopher Hirst) will make sufficient chips for 2-3 people. It is best to fry in small batches, especially if using a small fryer.

Peel, then chunkily chip 400-500g potatoes, washing them thoroughly.

  1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the chips and return to boil, immediately reducing to gentle simmer (no bubbles) for 8-10 minutes. Strain and leave in the pan to encourage any remaining water to evaporate.
  2. Transfer to cool on a cake rack. When cool, chill in fridge.
  3. Heat your oil (I used sunflower oil, which is ideal for deep frying) to 130C. Using mesh basket, fry chips for nine minutes.
  4. Remove the basket, shake, and allow to drain. Cool the chips on a cake rack, then chill in the fridge.
  5. Just before you are ready to eat, heat oil to 190C. Use a mesh basket to fry chips for a maximum of 2-3 minutes until golden. Cooking times can vary depending on the fryer and potato varieties so keep a close eye on the colour of chips. Drain the chips, then spread on double layer of kitchen paper. Serve immediately.
community/ Feature/ food/ healthy/ initiative/ Renfrew/ suppliers

Supplier spotlight: Something good in da hood!

"Food in da Hood" food van.
From this van will come great scran.

Good food doesn’t have to cost the earth. Some of the best things I have eaten have been put together using simple, healthy and economic ingredients. When many of us in the UK continue to feel a significant pinch on our finances – thanks to the global economic crash – and the prices of many foodstuffs are rocketing, it’s more important than ever that people have access to nutritious food that is not expensive.

Unfortunately, for far too many people in Scotland there remains a direct link between poor health and a poor diet: three quarters of the population consumes more than the recommended daily level of salt; and less than 25% of Scots consume the recommend five portions of fruit and vegetables each day (more info here). Part of the problem with Scotland’s diet stems from the fact that, whether as a result of time poverty or financial poverty, a significant proportion of the food we consume is pre-prepared and contains high levels of fat, sugar and salt. But things might soon be set to change in the Scottish region of Renfrewshire, thanks to a novel food project.

Food in the Hood is a mobile food initiative that aims to prepare, cook and sell home-style meals at tea time, to communities throughout Renfrewshire, using a converted van. The not-just-for-profit company hopes to take a share of the traditional takeaway market, by offering the same convenient service, but with a better product. Food in the Hood will prepare a menu consisting of favourite dishes – such as steak pie, chilli and vegetable curry – but cooked in the best possible way and using as little salt, fat and sugar as taste allows.

The initiative also intends to do more than just sell great food; it also hopes to change the eating habits of the communities it will serve as well as delivering other benefits. Not only will any profits be invested back into community projects, Food in the Hood is also intending to source much of its produce locally – from individuals, allotments and Renfrewshire organisations – and encourage “people in the community to grow for the community”. And of key importance, the intention is to keep the prices of the meals that are served as affordable as possible in order to ensure everyone can have access to good, healthy food.

The driving force behind Food in the Hood is Annette Currie, who has used her own money and cash borrowed from relatives to purchase a van and most of the equipment the initiative needs to get up and running. However, Food in the Hood still requires £3000 to complete the fit out and to market the project, and has turned to Crowdfunder in order to raise the remaining start-up funds by 13 June 2013.

Speaking about what has driven her to establish Food in the Hood, Annette commented:

“I enjoy cooking and after a camping/festival trip last September, where I cooked for 25 people for the weekend, I realised how much cheaper it is to cook for many. A few weeks later, after a chat in the kitchen with friends about the poor quality of takeaway food in our area and how sometimes you just want a home cooked meal (but can’t be bothered cooking), I looked into the viability of opening a takeaway.”

“The initial outlay and running costs of this approach were too high and it just seemed too risky – especially since a home-style takeaway has never been done before. So, my sister-in-law suggested using a van – which has lower overheads, less risk and means we can go out and find business.”

“The ethical basis on which Food in the Hood is built comes from my belief that businesses can make a profit AND benefit the communities they serve – effectively Conscious Capitalism. I really hope we can spread this message and get others to set up similar initiatives that provide healthy food and benefit communities across Scotland and even further afield.”

More information on supporting Food in the Hood through and the benefits associated with this can be found at:

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