I must admit, I only became intimate with chip wagons in my early 30′s. I moved from Toronto, where there are very few chip wagons, to Ottawa, where they abound in glory. To those of you who don’t know what a chip wagon is, I will explain. A chip wagon is what got me through my second and third pregnancies. It is a french fry truck or trailer, usually parked at the side of a busy road, or in the parking lot of a shopping center.
I spent my first pregnancy in Toronto, gorging on Dairy Queen Blizzards. I only had to glance at my husband and he was off and running to the DQ for a medium Skor Bar Blizzard. I gained 40 pounds with my first.
I was dragged, kicking and screaming, halfway through my second pregnancy, from the home I had known all my life, in Toronto, to the lovely town of Ottawa. It was a difficult transition for me. However, the discovery of chip wagons helped to smooth out the rough edges of my new life. Or more specifically, the S&G chipwagon, parked just a block away from my doctor’s office, on Carling Ave. I would go to my doctor’s appointment to be weighed and measured and then right after that I would make a beeline to S&G for a cheeseburger and a medium fries. I gained 45 pounds during this pregnancy. Given that she was force-fed burgers during her incarceration in my womb, it came as no surprise to me when this child became a vegetarian.
During my third pregnancy, my love affair with S&G continued. By this point, Steve (the S from S&G), and I were on a first name basis. I only gained 30 pounds this time round. However, before you go applauding my restraint and willpower, you should be aware of the fact that child # 3 was born 10 weeks early! Don’t tell my older two children this, but I secretly believe that their little brother is the clear genius of my progeny. He had the good sense to get out early, before his arteries became irreparably damaged.
After the birth of my third I refrained from visiting Chip Wagons on a regular basis. I would indulge only every once in a while.
But over the past few weeks, driving up to my cottage, I noticed that within less than a mile there are 3 chip stands stationed on Highway 15, at the South edge of Smiths Falls. Being the keen researcher that I am, I thought it would be a great idea to study them and report back to you what I discovered. Here are the findings of my highly scientific Chip Stand
Hank’s Fries is easy to find. By the side of the road there’s a life-size sign, featuring 6 foot long wooden fries dripping with ketchup. Locals and tourists love to stop in for lunch and a keepsake photo.
New this year at Hank’s are the pulled pork sandwich and the popcorn chicken. While I was mightily tempted, I had to stay focused, and I just ordered a small fries. My fry gal told me that they only use fresh, never frozen potatoes. She wasn’t sure what kind of potatoes they used, but she did know they were fried twice in vegetable oil. This, by the way, is the correct method to make perfect french fries. If you just fry them once at a high temperature, you will get the outside nice and brown, but you will never achieve that fluffy interior which is the hallmark of a perfect fry.
The first frying takes 8 minutes and is done in a lower temperature oil, just to blanch the fries and cook them thoroughly on the inside. The blanched fries will keep for many hours at room temperature, so they prepare lots ahead of time each morning. The second frying is done to order and takes just 4 minutes. This one is done at a higher temperature to crisp up the outside.
As she was bagging the fries, she offered a shake of salt and vinegar after filling the bag half full, so that I would get an even distribution of condiments. I said no to the vinegar but I never say no to salt!
Hank’s fries were partially peeled, which I really liked. They were slightly pale in colour and I was worried that the outside wouldn’t be crisp, but they were. I found the insides to be a little bit chewy, so I suspect that this batch was not cooked for long enough on the first frying.
About 800 metres down the road, right across from Mike Fair’s Chevrolet dealership is “Chip Off the Ole Spud.” Owners Mark and Adriana have spruced up the place with some pretty baskets of annuals. They also get bonus points for being wheelchair accessible!
Mark told me that they fry in Canola oil and use whatever potatoes are on special that week. They also use the twice cooked method, first blanching in a lower temperature oil and then crisping them up at a higher temperature. My order came very quickly, within a minute of ordering.
These fries were cut much thinner that the ones at Hank’s. They were a gorgeous burnished brown colour and I had high hopes for them. Unfortunately they were not very crispy. I suspect they had already been given their second fry a while ago and were sitting around. When I ordered them they were just briefly dipped in the oil to reheat. There was no offer to salt halfway through bagging so the seasoning was very uneven.
My final stop was Britt’s Chips, across from Town and Country Chrysler. Britt just opened at this location in May. She has a second stand, further South on Highway 15, in Lombardy, at Rideau Ferry Road.
Britt’s had the most extensive menu selection. I was dying to try the sweet potato fries and the Brittbitts (fried sugar-cinnamon and sugar-lemon dough twists), but I had to stay focused in my research, so I ordered regular fries. Interesting to note that the small fries here were only $3.00. This is 50 cents less than at the other 2 chip stands.
They fry in canola oil and use both P.E.I. and Quebec potatoes. They also use the twice fried method. They offered to salt halfway through, and offered me a little container for my ketchup so I could dip the fries, rather than squeezing the ketchup on top. I loved this touch. I always get too much ketchup on top and then there is none left by the time you get to the bottom of the bag. These fries were a light golden brown and they were very crispy on the outside with soft fluffy interiors.
When I looked at the fries closely, it seemed that many of them had roughed up edges, which explained their supreme crispness. I recall learning about this method from British cook Delia Smith for making the crunchiest roast potatoes. After par-boiling the potatoes, she recommended roughing the potatoes up a bit by shaking them in the pot so that they developed more cracks and crevices on the surface, thereby increasing the surface area for maximum outer crunch.
It would seem that Britt likes to play a bit rough with her potatoes after the first fry, and that’s a good thing! Top marks go to Britt’s chips! I’ll be back soon for the sweet potato fries.