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Changing chips

Using pre-prepared chips has many advantages, but there’s plenty you need to know before they make the cut



Chipping and peeling potatoes to make those traditional, chunky chip shop chips has been the way of life for friers for generations, but with the cost of labour, electricity and water all continuing to rise, pre-prepared chips - which do away with all those factors - are drawing more attention.


This is certainly a trend noticed by Paul Graham of Manchester-based Vic Graham, which produces PG Chips. He comments: “Next year will be our 17th year of producing pre-cut chips and we’re definitely seeing more and more shops use them for various reasons. One of the main factors is generally labour - all it takes is for someone to let you down and you’ve not get anyone to prep your spuds and, of course, there is the issue with staff over-rumbling potatoes. But also we’re seeing generations are changing, newer, younger blood is coming through and they are looking at different ways to do things, while there are also a lot of new start-ups who can’t afford to invest another £5,000-£6,000 on a prep room and who decide to start on prepared chips and then have such good results that they don’t change back.”

Whatever the reasons for considering pre-prepared chips, here are some factors to take into account before making the decision.


Price

Unlike sacks of potatoes, which can vary from between £4.50 to £15 a bag, pre-cut chips are much more stable, which can give peace of mind when potato prices are high.

Produced in 10kg packs, prepared chips tend to be priced between the £6-£8 mark, depending on volume and location, and to give you an idea of how the two compare, David Linton, MD at Fylde Fresh and Fabulous, which supplies Triple F Chips across the UK, explains: “The rule of thumb is that from a 25 kilo sack of potatoes, you get around 15 kilos of chips. If you’re currently paying £10 a bag, you have to add around £2.50-£3.00 for all associated costs to chip and peel them - electricity, labour, water, depreciation on your rumbler - so you’re probably paying around £12.50 to get 15 kilos, which is 83p a kilo - the equivalent of £8.30 for 10 kilos. Our prices vary depending on volume and location, but it’s around £7 a bag for those shops close by and  maybe more like £8 for those in, say, London.”


Size

Generally speaking there is less choice when it comes to chip size with most suppliers sticking to one thickness, so this may be dictated by the supplier you choose. Mitchell Potatoes, however, which delivers to shops across the East Midlands and down, as well as to some parts of Wales, offers three options - 12mm, 14mm and 17mm cut (the latter is available in 5kg bags as well as 10kg bags) - while Ivan Wood offers 10mm, 14mm and 21 x 17mm cuts to shops across Scotland, as well as its unique rustic wedge, a crinkle cut chip which is hand-pulled through a series of off-set blades to “rip” it, thereby giving the desired effect . If you are switching chip size, you will have to make sure you can adapt to the new size.


Shelf life

This will depend on whether you are buying directly from a supplier or from a middle man as the latter can slash a day or two off the shelf life of fresh chips. With PG Chips, its chips are delivered the day after they are produced, so a shelf life of six days is recommended if refrigerated correctly, but this can vary as Paul explains: “When we move to the new crop, I tend to cut the shelf life by about a day or two to four to five days as there can be a lot more water content in the potatoes and, therefore, more water sitting in the bag.”


Storage

While you won’t need a potato prep area, you will need more chilled storage, although you might be surprised by how many packs you can fit in a fridge, especially if your supplier vacuum packs them into tight blocks which stack more efficiently. If this is the case, a typical 600 litre stainless steel fridge should fit between 25 and 30 bags of pre-prepared chips.


Volume

Many friers assume that if they are using 20 sacks of potatoes, then they are going to need in the region of 40 bags of fresh chips, but what they don’t realise is that often the potatoes are being over rumbled so the yield from a 25kg bag can depend on who they give the job to. Whereas with a 10 kilo bag of fresh chips, you’re getting 10 kilos of chips, so a shop getting through 20 sacks of potatoes is more than likely to need around 30 bags of chips.


Frying

Generally speaking, prepared chips should be ready to use straight from the bag, with no drying or rinsing required. If you find you are needing to do either of these, go back to your supplier and ask the question “why?” as it defeats the object of using a ready prepared product if you’re giving yourself an added job to do. And it’s never recommended to tip a bag directly into a pan because if you slip, the plastic bag could easily end up in the pan and you’ve lost a whole pan of oil. Instead, either empty chips into your frying baskets or, if you prefer, into a chip barrel and leave for a few minutes before frying.


Being compliant

With no prep room or equipment to check, it’s literally a big tick through that whole section straight away when the EHO walks in. What’s more, as Malcolm Wood, director at Ivan Wood & Sons, explains, using fresh chips means you don’t need to concern yourself with new waste legislation. “It is now against the law for shops to pour micro-peel and starch down the drain and it comes with a £10,000 fine for any shops that do. By using fresh chips, shops are obviously avoiding this issue from the start.”


Regular and consistent supply

Use a supplier with a good track record and do your homework just as you would if you were buying potatoes by the bag - ask where the potatoes are grown and if they are from the same store in order to guarantee a consistent product. Ensure that deliveries are frequent, every two or three days, and that your supplier can react quickly should a problem arise, as David Linton explains: “We fry test our chips before they go out because while a maris piper can be fine on one day, the next it might not be. However, it’s important to remember that potatoes are a living, breathing product, so there can still be the odd problem.

“A lot of friers think they will lose control with prepared chips, but I would say that’s not the case, not if they do their homework, not if they check out their supplier, and I would certainly argue that our controls are better than most chippies.”

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