Frying high for National Chip Week

Lorenzo Pia, owner of Bene's, serves up some of his well-loved chips. Picture: Jane Barlow
Lorenzo Pia, owner of Bene's, serves up some of his well-loved chips. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THERE are few things in life better than walking past your favourite chippy and getting a whiff of the fantastic smells that come wafting out.

The only thing that might top that, of course, is the sensation of the first slighty-too-hot chip passing your lips as you hungrily grab the next one to thrust down your throat.

Our nation’s love of the humble foodstuff will be celebrated across the country next week as National Chip Week gets under way.

Across the UK, more than 250 million fish suppers are sold each year, while we eat nearly three billion meals containing chips in one year alone.

So what is it that makes this traditionally British meal still such a popular choice even after decades at the top?

Lorenzo Pia, owner of one of Edinburgh’s most well-known and popular chippies, Bene’s, says the answer is simple – getting a 
“chippy tea” is still widely considered as a treat by families across the country.

“No chips taste the same as they do from a chip shop,” he says. “Everyone gets that notion for fish and chips from time to time – Friday night is generally fish and chips night for a lot of people. Chips have always been popular – even during wartime. Everyone has grown up with chips. It’s part of our national dish and it’s always been a treat to get fish and chips from the chip shop. It’s still a treat even for me.”

Chip lovers up and down the country are being called upon to celebrate their love for the tasty snack next week by nominating their favourite chippies.

A dedicated website has been set up, with tasty recipes, a quiz and chip facts on offer for those hardcore fanatics.

In Edinburgh, there are an abundance of chippies designed to meet the needs of our chip-loving nation – but with so much competition, how can owners guarantee that their suppers are the ones which get customers coming back time after time?

“Looking after the customer and always making sure the food is fresh for them is the key”, says Lorenzo, whose Canongate chip shop is a favourite amongst celebrities when they come to Edinburgh. Last year, Jonathan Ross stopped by for a mince pie supper and deep fried Mars Bar while he was in town for Richard Branson’s party in The Caves.

“We notice people are watching their money so they want to make sure when they buy their fish and chips, that it’s good quality. It’s not cheap any more because of the price of fresh fish and potatoes. The perfect fish supper is fresh fish, the right mixture for the batter and good quality potatoes.”

So what is the secret to getting it right?

“Our batter mix is a family secret which goes back 40 years,” explains Lorenzo. “To make the best chips, you always have to make sure you cook them with good quality vegetable oil and best sourced potatoes.

“I always try to get samples in here and I decide which are best for our customers. You can really taste the difference, depending on the potato. The type of potato we use is also top secret! It’s a competitive market out there.”

But while Lorenzo might be tight-lipped about what makes the best chips, city chef Jason Wright is more than willing to share his secret.

Jason, the head chef at Steak Restaurant in Picardy Place and a self-confessed chip lover, says: “I do appreciate a chip shop and have a friend who owns one, but I can’t say I eat them a lot because I find them very unhealthy. I think the best chips are hand-peeled, hand-cut chips blanched in a frier at 130 degrees to soften them up. Then let them cool down a little bit and re-blanch them at 180 degrees. They come out beautifully.

“My favourite are triple cooked chips covered in beef dripping – it leaves the crispiest, best-tasting chips, but the middle of the chips still taste fluffy.

“Chips are a staple, as are potatoes. People still serve mashed potatoes in restaurants. Some people think it’s a very infantile thing to have chips on a menu, but it’s far from it.”

n National Chip Week starts on Monday. Visit www.chips.lovepotatoes.co.uk