Right gang! The time has finally come for the best deep dive of deep dive history, and I am PUMPED. I'm taking you on a savoury, crunchy journey into the world of the best snack ever and hopefully I’ll be able to rustle up a stellar version of it for you lot to try at home. Where do you think I am taking you? I am, of course, taking you on a ride to the delicious land of crisps.
Sure, it's probably a lot easier to go to the shops and buy a bag. But, think of the possibilities! Once you've got your spuds cooked and flavourings nailed, you're well on your way to a crisp buffet in the sun with your mates. So, now that I've got your attention — hop in, sit back and ready yourself for a snackalicious ride to crisp town.
The humble crisp has been around for a while, the first recorded recipe appears to be in William Kitchiner's book The Cook's Oracle published in 1817 where he wrote "peel large potatoes... cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping". When reading this, I immediately thought of the OG McDonald's beef fat fries (I made a note to test lard fried crisps with a Big Mac seasoning — I haven't managed it this time round, but it's been logged in my memory for later). Other authors around this time suggest frying in goose fat or clarified butter which is also pretty intriguing, but I'm not 100% sure how I feel about that.
I did a very professional poll on my Instagram stories asking people what their favourite snacks were and 98% said crisps! It really is the snack of the nation, and until I actually sat down and started writing about them I honestly hadn't appreciated the absolute array of choices on offer. You’ve got the corner shop classics like Salt and Vinegar Chipsticks, Discos, Space Raiders and Monster Munch. Then you’ve got the pub staples like Scampi and Bacon Fries (these form part of my death row meal and you can buy 24 packs of 'em right here). Next, we’ve got lunchbox fillers like Ready Salted Hula Hoops and Walkers multipack bags, which go hand-in-hand with holiday crisps such as Paprika Lays (which are just Walkers but in holiday language). Then, after all of those, we can move onto Kettle crisps. These are of the thicker, more substantial variety and normally have posh flavours like the infamous Co-op Irresistible Hand Cooked Sea Salt & Chardonnay Wine Vinegar Crisps that I kept seeing everywhere on my Instagram during lockdown. Also included in this bracket we have Torres Black truffle crisps that sell for about a fiver a pack and the Patatas Fritas Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps that you can buy in a 500g tin for £29.99 at Selfridges.
I recognise that this brief overview is very British. And in an ideal world, I would quite like to travel around the world and try all the fun crisps out there before I write about them. But until then, hopefully I can go on a few more holidays for ‘research purposes’ ready for a Dish Deep Dive: Crisps 2.0.
What Do People Look For In A Crisp?
For the sake of developing the best crisp recipe possible, I wanted to find out: 1) what people thought made a good crisp. And 2) what people thought made a bad crisp. So, I asked around. The results weren’t surprising, but it was good to to know exactly what to look out for. Here's the results:
Good crisps: loads of flavour, the perfect deep friedness, lots in the bag, good size, a fun shape helps.
Bad crisps: cardboard, lacking flavour, nothing in the bag (Walkers-style), uneven flavour distribution.
With all that noted, I went to chat with some crisp makers to see what they had to say about it all. I emailed Walkers a couple of questions from the fans, and whilst they did respond, their answers were a bit... underwhelming (read: rubbish).
Me: "What is your best selling crisp of all time?"
Walkers: "We are not able to say which is the best selling crisp of all time but our top selling flavours of crisps for 2023 are:
Cheese & Onion
Salt & Vinegar
Me: "Why did you stop selling Wotsit Bacon Wafflers (it's one of the saddest losses the community has ever had)?"
Walkers: "Removing a product from our range is always a difficult decision that none of us take lightly, but it’s usually due to low sales."
Me: "Do you have an archive of all the crisps you've ever made, and if so, is it viewable to the public or can you buy them?"
Walkers: "We do not have a archive of all our crisps as Walkers was taken over by Pepsico in 1989. The cost of making any products is proprietary information we are unable to share.
We are unable to offer visits to the public, however if you would like to see some of our production processes on BBC iPlayer with Gregg Wallace they feature Walkers Crisps.
We hope this helps and thank you for taking the time to contact us."
Well, Amanda, while I appreciate the response, I can't say it's really helped. I was hoping on securing a bag of Wotsit Wafflers to hang over the mantlepiece, but hey, I will have to make do with watching Greg Wallace on BBC iPlayer. How disappointing.
Now, I'm aware that Walkers aren't the only manufacturer of crisps, so I decided to consult the results of the Mob Crisp World Cup to inform my testing. Although I love a cheese and onion or a ready salted, I figured we could go one up on the flavour if it's what the people like! Turns out the final contenders were Balsamic Kettle Chips and Walkers' Thai Sweet Chilli Sensations. Since I had already decided I was going for a more classic crisp rather than the thicker-cut crisp — I went with Thai Sweet Chilli.
Now, Onto The Testing: Which Potato?
For obvious reasons, we want big crisps. So out go the jersey royals and other small tater varieties. We need something that's sturdy and robust, which leads me to maris pipers, and after some online research — it seems like I’m on the right track. I tested with maris pipers vs bog standard white potatoes and the maris pipers came out on top, with a perfect crunch and colour.
I looked at air frying, baking and deep frying as potential methods for my crisps. Although the results from air frying seems like it could produce a really crispy crisp, not everyone has an air fryer. And I also felt like going down the more traditional route. So I decided to throw baking out the window and settle with deep frying.
I tested them with a presoak and without a presoak to determine if it made any difference to the overall cook of the crisp. Turns out it really does. Definitely don't skip the soaking/washing, I found that without it the crisps burnt way quicker, which made sense because of the sugars.
I also took into consideration what people said about the crinkle and liking a fun shape. But crinkle cutters aren’t something people normally have at home, and because I wanted this to be as accessible as possible, I'm stuck with a classic thinly-sliced spud. Whilst a mandolin isn't essential here, I strongly recommend using one. They don't have to be expensive, I have this one at home and it does the trick perfectly and has lasted forever.
A Crispy Conclusion
I completed numerous tests, tasted many a crisp, and rattled my brain for the perfect method. And with that, I think I really have managed to nail a perfectly easy, straightforward recipe for homemade crisps. Not just that, I've even managed to make the most banging Thai sweet chili (ish) seasoning.
Want The Crisps Recipe?
Making crisps from scratch actually doesn't take too much. Here, we're perfected the ultimate crisp recipe, and even made a sweet chilli seasoning to go with.