Egg and chips
"Egg and chips, also known as chips and egg" Wikipedia
Not a relevant quote really, but I though it was so funny. And it sort of sums up the complete ordinariness of this particular dish.
I think it was that recipe of Jamie's for Hungover noodles, that had a crispy edged fried egg perched on top that got me thinking about egg and chips. He doesn't seem to have a recipe for straight good old British egg and chips though, which is interesting. Neither do many of those English gurus. Nigella has one, but it's in her book Feast, and I don't have it, and nobody else has copied it and put it online. Indeed the only British guru who does have a recipe is the fanciest of them all - Heston Blumenthal who has written quite a lengthy article on the topic because as he says: "You can't get much more British a dish than fried egg and chips."
I think he likes to take those basic things and subvert them in some way. He mostly talks about the perfect chips - his triple cooked chips are world famous now I think and I have talked about them before. Suffice to say that it's complicated and not something either you or I are going to try anytime soon. But if you click on his name above you can find out how to do it. He does have a couple of interesting things to say about the process though:
"Frying basically involves cooking food in hot fat. But it's not quite that simple. You need to take care when frying, because if the fat is too hot, the food will scorch or burn; and if it's too cold, the food will soak up fat and become soggy with grease."
"the perfect chip has a wonderfully crisp exterior and a light, fluffy interior."
He cooks them three times because even though twice cooked chips are pretty perfect, they don't stay that way for very long and go soggy, because of the moisture inside. He has some complicated way of extracting that moisture and then fries again to retain the crispness.
He's certainly right about the crisp exterior and fluffy inside. My mum's chips were pretty good - they were double cooked, and perhaps stayed crispy for long enough. We often had egg and chips for dinner, mostly I now realise toward's the end of the month when money might have been getting short. It's a dish of the poor - and Wikipedia says as much in it's short article on the topic. And note - it is not healthy. All that fat, and eggs are high in cholesterol too. Not many vitamins I would think. Poor mum, she didn't really have all that health knowledge about food back then, and just tried to fill us up with food to make us grow and be active, I think. But there are lots of chefs out there who will say that their favourite comfort food is egg and chips. Wikipedia said it was also one of those dishes that the British demanded on their holidays in Spain. It made them feel at home I guess.
I wonder whether we have changed over the decades to that old looking for something to remind us of home when we travel to new places, or whether we now travel to experience something new and different. Or is it always and forever a class thing? Particularly a British class thing. The middle and upper classes experiment, the lower classes cling to who they are through what they eat. Although foreign food eaten in Britain can be comfort food too - chicken butter cream anyone?
“Different moments called for completely different sorts of comfort ... maybe the reason there is no need for the term comfort food in Italian is because the words are one and the same: food is comfort." Corrado Assenza
However, this is one comfort food that I won't be cooking at home. Well not how I remember it anyway, because of those chips - they are just too unhealthy. Al;though I still, for some perverse reason, still have a chip basket for one of my original wedding gift saucepans - still in excellent nick too. But it's up in the gatehouse. Now if I was to deep fry anything I would be doing it in the wok I guess. A kind of cooking pot that we had no idea about when I was growing up. The nearest I come to fried potatoes of any kind is roasted vegetables I guess. To be honest I'm not sure these are that much healthier than fried chips. In fact one of the oven recipes that I saw, seemed to be actually frying the chips in the oven - you put them into a layer of sizzling fat, rather than just tossing them in a bit of oil.
As to the fried egg component of the dish. Well we won't be having them either. David doesn't like them. I had one every morning for breakfast when I was growing up - again it was that desire of my mother to get something filling into me first thing. I hated to eat a lot of food first thing in the morning. But I did love egg and chips. Breaking the yolk to run all over the chips and then dipping them in the yolk that remained was a sensory pleasure. If I try I can still taste it. I really don't think that eggs taste quite the same these days. There wouldn't have been much leftover from that particular meal.
Later in life, when at university, I and my friends would visit the transport café on the motorway which skirted the grounds of the university and there we would have the lot - egg and chips, yes, but also baked beans and bacon and maybe even the ultimate unhealthy food - fried bread. Comfort food for truck drivers everywhere in Britain. Not healthy at all.
Heston didn't have quite as much to say about the eggs, although he did say:
"I should also mention that it is vital to use only the freshest of eggs, because their whites will remain compact and not run everywhere."
But then he would be thinking about how it would look on the plate. We didn't care.
I wondered whether this was a dish which would throw out a multitude of different, healthier, and fancier versions. After all that seems to be what happens these days does it not. But, curiously I did not find a lot. The main difference would be in oven baking the chips rather than frying them and adding various flavourings to them or making chips from other things, particularly sweet potatoes. Here are a few that I found. The first one is not really egg and chips at all, as the egg is poached and the chips are what I call crisps - but near enough to include I guess - it's from delicous. Mind you it's sort of a salad complete with a dressing. The next two pictures are from Rachel Roddy, The Guardian's Italian food correspondent, but her chips are not really chips - they're fried potatoes and the eggs are cooked with them not separately. We never cooked our eggs with our chips. The unhealthy looking one below left is actually Oven egg and chips and presumably therefore healthier, and is from the BBC and then there is a picture from a post on Twitter by Nigella. Nearer to the real thing I guess but the egg is sitting on a burger. The last one on the bottom left, from a site called Lifehacker takes the crisp thing a bit further and cooks the eggs on top of potato crisps.
So apart from minor bloggers and websites like delicious and Taste, most celebrity chefs don't do egg and chips. You would think they would see it as a challenge wouldn't you?
To finish I will give you something from maybe one of the most 'refined' chefs of all - Ferran Adrià who presents a Potato chip omelette. Yes not the same thing at all - the eggs are not fried whole, and the chips are crisps. Apparently he and his staff often ate it after a heavy night in the kitchen.
The picture at the top of the page is the most tempting looking one I think and is from the British version of delicious. They made their chips with goose fat! It actually doesn't seem to be a very photogenic dish. You can make a fried egg look gorgeous though, although I suspect that David would say it looks revolting..