Fries are getting a foodie makeover, with 'truffle-topped polenta frites' coming to a menu near you

Emily Jupp finds out whether gourmet chips are just a flash in the pan

I think that it all started with the recession. After the 2008 crash, spending was stalled and diners were cautious, unwilling to part with big money for decadent dinners. So street food came along to fill the gap; the squeezed middle couldn't afford steak, but we could still stretch to burgers (not from McDonald's – we wouldn't be seen dead there, even if the cows were raised on the same farm as those of our twice-the-price diner, where food was grabbed from a temporary hatch in the wall).

It's an important point to make, that the middle-class supper clubs were similar to, yet distinctly different from, the ubiquitous fast-food joints that had existed before them. The food was made with superior ingredients and cooked with care: this is not just a hot-dog stall, it's a "haute-dog" pop-up; this is not just a burger van, it's a meat wagon. Thus, the middle classes were able to dine out on a tighter budget, while maintaining a snobbishness about working-class food. Marketing genius.

As the likes of burger chain Byron and London-based Chicken Shop continue to make fast food palatable to the middle classes, there's one ordinary foodstuff that's holding out against being gingered up with special sauce, hung for a minimum of 28 days, rubbed with nectar-fed armadillos and piped through Kylie Minogue's golden hotpants before we'll allow it between our pampered lips, and that's the simple, no-nonsense chip. Some 90 per cent of us are chip eaters; from lords and ladies to labourers and layabouts, the chip unites us all.

Perhaps the reason for the unifying nature of chips (chip classlessness, if you will) is that they're uniquely shareable: it's OK to pinch chips from someone else's plate, but any other food would be inappropriate. In Watching the English, a book by the anthropologist Kate Fox offering an insight into English class, the author says chip eating is important as a social facilitator – in other words, it helps us all to get along: "When we are eating chips, you will often see the English behaving in a very sociable, intimate, un-English manner," Fox writes, "all pitching in messily to eat with our fingers off the same plate or out of the same bag, pinching chips off each other's plates – and even feeding chips to each other."

It's a shock, then, that even chips are now undergoing a type of foodie gentrification. No longer are they simply fat or skinny, wrapped or open, crinkle-cut or curly. Now they're triple-cooked, duck-fat-fried, soaked in dripping, hand-cut, topped with pulled pork, doused with truffle oil or even – heaven forbid – not made from potato at all.

Anne de la Forest, a French cook and food journalist, is pioneering a trend for "frites" that many of us might argue are not chips, but something else entirely. Her recipe book, Frites, is divided into sections: Trendy Frites, including skinny chips, honey-glazed, polenta and feta fries (which are deep-fried cheese in breadcrumbs); Creative Frites: made with assorted veg such as sweet potato; and Sweet Frites: desserts made from apples, bananas and pears, sliced into oblongs and deep-fried. I feel horrified at the idea of chips being messed about with, but de la Forest insists she understands the special place chips have in our hearts.

"Fries are emotional!" she says. "Chips were cooked by our grandmother or mother, eaten with family, the food we adore to eat with our fingers... My first memories of chips are those that I made with my mother, eaten with a juicy steak, the juice of the meat impregnating the chips – totally delicious."

Courgette, Parmesan and poppy-seed frites by Anne De La Forest Courgette, Parmesan and poppy-seed frites by Anne De La Forest
It was when she tried to look for a good chip recipe to prepare some for her children that she realised that food fetishisation did not extend to the potato-based snack, and decided to make amends, experimenting with different fruit and vegetables, different thicknesses, the benefits of machine-cut versus hand-chopped, different oils and frying temperatures, until Frites was born. On her deep-frying odyssey she discovered something that we all suspected – that cooking up a chip isn't that complicated.

"The secret to cooking good fries is based on three things: the variety of potatoes, which must be mealy but not too dry, good cooking oil and double firing, with a first bath at 130C and a second bath at 170C/180C," says de la Forest.

I tested her recipes on some friends to see if these mutant chips were really any better than the usual chip-shop sort, with mixed results. One discovery: the oil is terribly important. You need oil that will remain stable even at very high temperatures and rich in saturated fatty acids – not good for your arteries, but it makes for delicious chips. De la Forest encourages experimenting with oils, so after some failed attempts I plumped for rapeseed oil and another oil that was a combination of avocado, sesame and canola oil, which has a high boiling point but is still more nutritious than vegetable or sunflower oil. Most of the recipes recommend using a deep-fat fryer but I just used a pot filled half-full with oil and fished the chips out with a slatted spoon (get a sober adult to help you with this). Here's what occurred:

Experiment one: courgette chips

Byron makes these. Its version are salty and tasty but a bit on the damp side, so I took precautions by salting the courgette slices and leaving them for half an hour to draw out the liquid, then dried them with paper towels before frying. I couldn't get poppy seeds, so swapped them for sesame seeds instead, which worked well.

The verdict: my victims loved the sesame crust but the courgette's fundamental unchippiness was divisive. "They're very nice, darling, but frankly they just aren't chips," was my boyfriend's response.

Experiment two: asparagus chips

It isn't even possible to carve these into a chip-like shape, so they weren't even masquerading as chips when I served them with a herby dip. I think that this helped, because they weren't being judged against traditional chips.

The verdict: crispy on the outside, fresh on the inside and a good shape for dipping. A success.

Experiment three: polenta chips

I had to fry these for seven minutes, which is double the recommended frying time, to get them really crispy on the outside. I sprinkled them with smoked rock salt and served them with mayonnaise and ketchup.

The verdict: they were very well received. My friend Gary said: "I like them because they are the most like real chips." High praise indeed.

High praise: Polenta frites by Anne De La Forest High praise: Polenta frites by Anne De La Forest
Experiment four: feta chips

The breadcrumb batter stuck well to these, creating a crispy shell and a gooey interior.

The verdict: these were the favourites in the group, but then who doesn't love tangy deep fried cheese?

Experiment five: sweet-potato chips

This was dessert. Like traditional chips, sweet potato produces a lovely chip when baked, so I went against the recipe and parboiled them and then shoved them in the oven with vanilla sugar for 20 minutes.

The verdict: the women in the group loved them, but the men were perturbed by the sweet/savoury combination of potato chips.


For a pretentious dinner party, these hybrid chips might be a good talking point, but it's safe to say that potato chips aren't going to be swept away entirely by the foodie revolution. With its fluffy centre that knows no prejudice and crispy skin that sees no class distinctions, the potato remains the best vegetable for frying up. When the chips are down, potato-based comfort food is the only thing I want on my plate.


By Anne de la Forest

Ingredients to serve 6

1 kg courgettes
2 eggs
2 tablespoon flour
3 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons parmesan,
1 teaspoon of poppy seeds
2 litres cooking oil
Table salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the fryer (or a pot of oil) to 170C. Wash the courgettes well and dry them carefully  with a clean, dry cloth. Cut the courgettes lengthways into large slices and then cut them again into fairly thin sticks about 10cm long.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, put the flour into a second bowl and mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan and poppy seeds in a third. Add salt and pepper to all three bowls.

Dip the courgette pieces first in the flour, then in the eggs and finally in the breadcrumb mixture. Place each one carefully in the frying basket.

Fry for 5 minutes, keeping a close eye on them.  Remove the courgette frites from the fryer. Salt generously and enjoy whilst still hot.


BY Anne de la Forest

Ingredients to serve 6

300ml milk
300ml water
150g polenta
1 tablespoon parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 litres cooking oil
1 teaspoon table salt
Half a teaspoon sea salt crystals

Bring the milk and water to the boil together. Sprinkle in the polenta and allow to cook for 10 minutes, stirring until it thickens. Add the parmesan and melted butter. Salt generously and stir well.

Spread the polenta out on a flat dish, in an even layer about 2cm or 3cm thick and leave to cool. Then put it in the fridge for one hour.

Heat the fryer to 170C. Cut the polenta into sticks about 10cm long. Put the sticks carefully into the frying basket, using tongs. Space them out well. Lower the basket and fry for two minutes. Lift out the basket, let the frites drain, then place them carefully on a large plate covered with kitchen paper. Remove the paper.

Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and eat whilenice and hot.

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London