I'm compiling this page in two sections:
FISH & CHIPS
The main UK varieties for the fish and chip trade are Maris Piper, Cabaret, Victoria and Markie.
Maris Piper is still the favourite. Cabaret is whiter, bred by Cygnet PB (2001) in Cambridge, with a distinctive flavour. Victoria is a Dutch potato, yellow fleshed, recent (around 2000) with more water content than Cabaret; Markie is Dutch and newer, and becoming dominant in the fish and chip industry. It has a slightly milder flavour than the others, and looks good (pale golden brown) on frying.
The dry matter figures for the four varieties are 7,7,5 and 7, though this obviously depends on how long they are stored. Potatoes get drier and more floury on storage through the winter.
The dry matter content decides the greasiness of the chip. If it's too high (the highest figure possible is 9, which corresponds to about 25% starch) the chips are very dry and absorb virtually no oil; the texture is stiff and a bit like cardboard. If the dry matter is too low, lots of oil is absorbed and the chip is rather flexible and greasy.
The ideal chip is intermediate; crisp on the outside but fluffy in the centre, and not too greasy. In the above list, Voctoria has less dry matter and forms a more flexible, wetter chip.
As a rule, the average chip shop customer doesn't care about variety or dry matter; he just wants a good chip, all the year round. This creates a problem, because the best chipping potatoes don't always store through the winter. this is why you need a mix of types.
FROZEN / OVEN CHIPS
Frozen chips are sold to caterers and to the supermarkets, for cooking at home in the oven. The market is dominated by McKains, who buy 13% of the UK potato crop, and whose chips are found in 70% of British freezers.
As for the fish-shop chip, a sequence of varieties has to be used to ensure a steady supply of even quality through the year. The problem time is May-June, when old potatoes are coming to the end of their life, and new ones are not yet ready.
The sequence of spuds they use is:
PREMIERE - SHEPHERDIE - PENTLAND DELL -MARIS PIPER - RUSSET BURBANK.
PREMIER is Dutch, and has a rare property for a first early -it has dry flesh (yellow) which will fry. Dry matter content is 6.
SHEPHERDIE is a variety I know nothing about but I guess it's a second early, fairly dry.
PENTLAND DELL has dry matter 7, and good tuber shape and size for chipping. It will last for much of the winter, and huge acreages are grown. It is the main chipping variety used by McKains.
MARIS PIPER is used during and after Pentland Dell. It is an excellent chipping potato.
RUSSET BURBANK is used at the end of the season. It is not the best potato in the world, and it is probably more susceptible to blight than any other variety, but it has a special property - it stores extremely well, and makes decent chips right at the end of the season, just before the new potatoes become available.
For chips, McKains need long, even-shaped potatoes of decent size. Their own seed potatoes are grown in Scotland, and they are always looking out for varieties which are suitable for chipping and which need lower amounts of pesticide, fertiliser and water.
As for organic chips, these are not available commercially. There are not enough organic potatoes grown for a sustainable product line.
The chip-making process involves blanching the chips, which brings the sugar levels to an acceptable value, so that when cooked, they will have a light golden colour. Too much sugar means darker chips. They are then fried for 90 seconds, then cooled slowly in a cooling chamber, and then packaged. When cooked in an oven they will produce a chip crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy inside.
Sunflower oil is used for the frying, and it is sourced in France. McKains uses about 11,000 tonnes per year.
In the UK, 15% of the chips eaten are oven chips of this kind. In Belgium the figure is about 3%.
Much of the information above came from an edition of "The Food Programme", broadcast on radio 4 during June 2010.
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