Friday, 10 February 2012

crisps - the experiment

Yesterday saw the revival of my wonderful bake dates with Rory. (For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, me and my lovely assistant Rory get together sporadically and cook something we're too intimidated to try on own and then tell each other at length about how amazing we are. They're great fun altogether.) It's been a while since we last got together in the kitchen and when he arrived laden with dinner goodies and enthusiasm I must admit my enthusiasm was nowhere to be found. I just couldn't really be bothered. Why wouldn't I just go to the shop and buy a bag of crisps to go with our movie? They'd probably taste way better than anything we could make ourselves right? Wrong. The crisp experiment was a total success and as soon as we started my mood changed from lethargic to terribly excited. Sad isn't it? But lets not get too ahead of ourselves. There's plenty to talk about here.

oven roasted crisps
deep fried crisps

 The task we set ourselves was to try and make homemade crisps from scratch on which we could munch while we enjoyed a movie and a glass of wine. In the interests of science we tried two methods. We did oven roasted and deep fried. The conclusion I came to was that the worse something is for you the better it tastes. As much as I wanted the oven baked variety to come out on top, it would appear nothing beats deep frying. The deep fried crisps were light, crunchy and tasted of potato. The oven baked were either floppy or hard and chewy. They never got a good crunch on them and didn't have a nice potato flavour. So, there it is. Debate closed. 

the offensive oven baked crisps

the delectable deep fried version

Having said that, we used a potato peeler to slice the potatoes thinly. It worked brilliantly for the deep fried crisps but perhaps had we used a knife and made slightly thicker crisps for the oven, they would have come out better. I'll have to wait for another day to figure that one out.  

Now as far as I understand it the only proper way to flavour crisps is the addition of powdered flavour which will stick to the crisp. With limited powdered flavourings in the old press we tried to come up with alternative ways of flavouring them. Some worked, some didn't. 

It was easier to get the flavours on the oven roasted crisps as you could brush them with flavoured oils before putting them in the oven. The deep fried ones simply had to be tossed in flavour after you'd fried them so you couldn't use anything too wet or they'd get soggy. Here's what we came up with.

the flavours

Cheese and onion - everyone's favourite flavour (well, actually mine's salt and vinegar, except when in a pub, then it's cheese and onion all the way. weird). This we achieved by infusing olive oil with grated parmesan and red onion which we then dabbed onto the crisps after they were fried, or in the case of the oven roasted, before they were roasted. The flavour was great, but you have to be careful not to put too much on the deep fried crisps as it can make them too oily. Hard to tell on the oven baked as they tasted so awful anyway. Also, it was brought to my attention by my lovely assistant that Tayto invented the cheese and onion crisp. How did I not know this before? Well done Mr. Tayto. Bake dates are all about learning you know.

Salt and vinegar - we only tried these on the deep fried version. I coated a dish with a small amount of vinegar (we tried balsamic which was a bit too mild and red wine which I preferred), then threw some coarse sea salt in and tossed the freshly cooked chips quickly round the dish so they wouldn't get too soggy before turning them out into a serving bowl. This worked really well, but you do have to be careful not to use too much vinegar, or leave them in for too long or they'll go soggy.

Sweet chilli - I wasn't sure this one really worked. Again we infused some oil with chilli, sugar, rice wine vinegar and soy sauce and basted the oven baked crisps. As we only tried it on the oven baked crisps (it would have been too oily for the deep fried ones) it was hard to tell if it was any good. (The oven baked crisps really were awful.)

Last but not least, a bit of late inspiration from Rory, saw a last minute concoction of chilli, Italian herbs and salt which was delicious. Simply toss your deep fried crisps in the mixture and eat. Yum. Possibly my favourite.

So that was the big crisp experiment. While the oven baked ones were a disaster, the deep fried ones really did taste as delicious as any you'd buy. Only problem is that they're kind of hard to enjoy when you realize just how bad they are for you.

Oh, and I can't finish this post without thanking Rory for the delicious meal he made me without which I never would have had the energy to fry anything.  It was a delicious pasta dish with pan fried chicken and rosemary. (I think he stole it from Gordan Ramsey. Here's the recipe)

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