Chips, differently

One of the things I’ve been trying to do is reduce the amount of carbohydrates (And therefore calories) in our diet whilst retaining variety and taste. To this end, while burrowing around the Internet I found out about the uses of Celeriac or Celery root. At simplest it turns out that you can fry Celeriac like potatoes to make a slightly nutty tasting form of French fry or chips.

Now to look at, Celeriac looks like something dreamed up by a Dr Who scriptwriter with all it’s gnarly tight packed roots and rough skin. You could even be forgiven for thinking it’s some strange sessile alien creature awaiting it’s chance to leap out of the vegetable bin and burrow it’s way into what remains of an unsuspecting cooks brain. But this is not so. This sci-fi looking root vegetable has a firm texture like turnip, without the risk of horror filled school dinner flashbacks caused by mashed Swede or ‘Rutabaga’.

If asked to describe the taste, I’d say it was a mild form of Parsnip with a hint of hazelnut and Crimini mushroom. Actually quite pleasant when you get past the first shock of the unfamiliar, yet definitely superior in flavour and texture to the mouth cloying fries most Canadians are offered in ‘Casual’ dining outlets. There’s no starchiness, and definitely none of that horrible floury aftertaste so many commercially produced French fries leave in the mouth.

Right: Onto the method. Not much to it. Peel Celeriac root and carve off extraneous alien looking tendrils with a knife. Do use a sharp knife unless your vegetable peeling tool is really robust, remembering not to carve off your delicate little pinkies. I refer you to rule 1 of peeling and cutting. Fingers behind the blade edge children. Either that or invest in Bandaid futures.

Once peeled, cut into 12-15mm (About 3/8ths to 1/2 of an inch seems to be optimal) square sections for traditional English style. Put a pint of cooking oil into your oldest and deepest sacrificial saucepan or no more than a third full and put over a medium high heat. Why only a third? It’s very simple, filling only less than half your cooking vessel will spare you kitchen fires if you’re called away for five minutes to tell someone on the Interweb that they are categorically in the wrong and you just have to tell them so.

Once your oil goes on the heat, in another pan, boil some salted water and dump your cut Celeriac pieces in. Take off heat immediately you’ve brought them back to the boil and leave for five minutes. Drain Celeriac chip shapes and pat them dry using paper or cloth towels. Check oil temperature periodically by chucking in a tiny piece of Celeriac. If it foams and sizzles immediately, your oil is hot enough for deep frying. If not, patience. All good things come to those who prepare carefully.

When first piece foams and froths in the hot oil, put in as many pieces of cut Celeriac as will fit in one layer floating in the oil and fry for five minutes. Then using a slotted spoon or similar haul them out onto paper towels or into a sieve and wait two minutes for the oil to reheat. Now chuck in the next batch. Follow the same procedure. Let the oil get back up to temperature then put in the first batch again until most frothing and foaming has subsided and the fries are a light browny gold. If you aren’t sure, nick a chip out of the hot oil (Not with your fingers, dimwit!), drain it, dry it off, and when cool enough to eat, taste for desired texture.

At this point it might be a good idea to heat up a serving dish, dry thoroughly and line with paper towels. As each batch of fries becomes ready, drain and decant into this lined bowl or dish to keep them drained and warm. When all batches of fries are done and in the bowl, switch off the stove and serve with Mayonnaise. Or Ketchup. Or Brown Sauce, in fact whatever you want as a dip. Be adventurous. Cook naked if you want (But this blog advises a decent cooks apron, because even a small spot of hot oil on your important little places can really put a painful crimp in the whole experience).

Now serve. Remember, this is a very adult taste, and those under 25 should not bother unless they are as sophisticated as wot you obviously are.

Talking of adventure and I haven’t done this yet, but it’s next on the list; try oven cooking these chips. Instead of deep frying them, after boiling and drying off, roll the cut pieces of Celeriac in a little olive (or any other cooking) oil, dust with dry seasoning of choice, be it salt, salt and pepper, garlic powder, a light sprinkling of curry powder or Chinese five spice, or even a hint (And I do mean only a hint) of Cayenne pepper. Whatever you fancy, but it has to be dry. Then bake, just like you would Oven chips at 220°C/ 425°F for around 30-35 minutes depending on your oven.

Oh yes, a word of warning about Cayenne pepper. Wash hands immediately after handling, just in case you feel the need to rub your eyes. Trust me, you do not want Cayenne in your eyes. Not unless you’re into heavily swollen eyelids and not being able to see properly for a few hours. Cayenne has the same effect as Pepper spray. It stings. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Expatriate expostulations from wherever; a.k.a. A Sarcastic man abroad trying to stay in the middle of the road without getting run over.

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