When I was in Ireland earlier in the year, I met some wonderful characters. Such warm, generous people who know how to have a good time.
Someone who really captured my imagination was a guy called Socaí (prounounced socky). A guy who loves his food so much that he gives every meal he eats a score out of ten. Of course when I heard about this I was secretly hoping that when I got a chance to cook for Socaí, I’d be able to score a perfect ten. Or at least give it a shot.
But later I found that the rules weren’t that simple. For a meal to get a perfect score it needed to include chips. Apparently, in the eyes of Socaí, without fries he couldn’t award a ten, no matter how delicious the food.
My heart sank a little when I heard this. But I soon reconciled myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to claim number one spot. You see, I have a fear of frying.
It’s a fear that’s been with me all of my cooking life. And something that I’ve been comfortable with. I mean I can poach, bake, BBQ or saute like the best of them. And I do the odd patch of shallow frying, but for me the deep-end of the frying spectrum has been a no-go zone.
But a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a new technique for deep frying that sounded so simple, the minimalist in me just had to give it a go. A big thankyou to Molly Wizenberg and her podcast Spilled Milk for opening my eyes to the concept of starting to fry potatoes in cold oil. Pure genious.
As the oil heats up the potatoes cook gently, giving the centre time to get all lovely and fluffy without the outside overcooking. No need for thermometers, or par-boiling first, or cooking at two different temperatures. We’re talking good AND simple. Peel and chop the potatoes, throw then in a saucepan with the cold oil, heat and let them cook away.
Now I just need to get back to Ireland so I can compete for my perfect ten, with chips.
how to overcome the fear of frying
start with cold oil
One of the things that really worried me about deep frying in the past was knowing when the oil was at the right temperature to start frying. With the cold oil method there are no doubts.
don’t stress about exact temperatures
The higher the heat, the faster your oil will heat up and the quicker your chips will cook. There’s no need to mess around with thermometers and hitting particular temperatures. Phew.
use an appropriate saucepan
The oil is going to bubble up as it heats. Best to choose a saucepan that is large enough so the potatoes and oil only come about half way up the sides to avoid any risk of overflow.
don’t worry about small batch sizes
With conventional hot oil frying there’s always the worry that if you add too much cold food to the oil it will drop the temperature of the oil and the food will become greasy and soggy. With everything heating at a constant rate from a cold start you eliminate the risk of sudden temperature fluctuations. Yay.
My other previous negative experience with frying was stinking out the kitchen. The cold oil method combined with a little ventilation seems to alleviate this.
don’t step away from the kitchen
You’re still going to have a large amount of hot oil on your hands. Best to play it safe and keep at least one eye on things.
drain on a rack
No matter how well you scrunch your paper towel, it always seems to make things go soggier rather than keeping them crisp. The solution is to drain on a rack or cake cooler so the excess oil can drip off your chips but there’s enough air circulating around to keep it just-out-of-the-pan crisp.
reuse your oil
My other objection used to be the large amount of oil required. But really it doesn’t take much effort to strain the clear oil once it is cool and store it in a dedicated bottle for next time you’re in the mood to fry.
cold oil potato chips
serves 2 as a snack
I find that floury potatoes are the best chippers because they give that perfect combo of light, crisp outsides and lovely fluffy interior texture. I’ve used both King Edwards and Ottoway Reds with much success. Maris Pipers or good old Sebagos would also be good choices. Interested to hear your favourite chip spuds.
Feel free to cut your chips to your preferred size. The more uniform the size, the more evenly they’ll cook but don’t stress about it too much. Who doesn’t love a few little super crispy bits among their fries.
A word of warning. This recipe is dangerous and it’s got nothing to do with large quantities of hot oil. The danger lies in how easy it is and how delicious the results, next thing you know you’ll be sitting down to a Sunday afternoon ‘snack’ of home made fries. Watch out waistline.
As the chips are cooking it’s best to leave them untouched until they start to crisp up on the outside. Other wise you run the risk of breaking them up – although this may not be the end of the world.
If the rest of the meal isn’t quite ready for your fries, they’ll keep ok for a while on the draining rack in a warm oven.
2 large potatoes
peanut oil for deep frying
sea salt, to serve
Peel the potatoes and cut into your preferred chip shape. I like batons that aren’t too thick but aren’t french-fry-skinny. Pat dry with paper towel and place in a large saucepan.
Cover with oil and place over a medium high to high heat. Bring to an energetic simmer and let them cook away without touching them.
Once the chips start to go a little brown, you can give them a stir to remove any stuck to the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until they’re a good chip colour.
Scoop out with a slotted spoon and drain briefly on a rack or cake cooler above a tray of paper towel.
Sprinkle generously with salt and eat asap.
I’m curious to know how the cold oil method would work with other food. Thinking that it will only be suitable for things like potato that need a fair bit of cooking in the middle and that aren’t very porous. You don’t want the food to soak up the cold oil in the initial frying phases. Watch this space.
Up to number 19 on the books I’ve read this year. Have updated my now reading list.
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