In Wales, Malcolm Jolley discovers the pleasures of big fat floury fried potatoes.

An impudent child ruins his father’s budding career as a food stylist / photographer by stealing a chunky chip at Richard Booth’s Bookshop and Café in Hay-on-Wye before the old man had time to unlock his phone and take the shot.

In this era of polarization it’s comforting to remember that gastronomy takes no sides and that it’s not only possible, but downright enjoyable to like many things at the same time. So it is that on my annual family summer holiday in the UK, I have developed a particular affection for the British version of deep fried potato bits that one pub’s menu poetically called ‘chunky chips’. As a younger man, still green and awkwardly trying to develop some craft as a food writer, I would have been tempted build a case for chunky chips by comparing them favourably to more slender shapes of French fries. Now, with whatever meager scraps of wisdom I have accumulated as a foodie hack for the better part of a decade and a half, I see that approach is both unnecessary and silly. There is a time for shoestrings, and a time for chunkies, and it’s all good. 

A fancy haddock with chunky chips at the Blue Boar pub in Hay-on-Wye with homemade Tartar sauce and fresh peas and a (slightly heretical, but nonetheless appreciated) green salad.

Chunky chip is, of course, a term of art and not science. The definition of a chunky chip follows the logic of the late United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: you know it when you see it. They are thicker and more substantial than your average chip. The chunky chip shares the delectability of the frite’s crispy edges, but then delivers a wallop of starchy potato flesh. If with the standard fry less is more, then with the chunky chip, surely, more is more.

A chunky chip depleted plate of cod and chips with homemade Tartar sauce and properly mushy peas at the Dragon Inn in picturesque Montgomery. Luckily the cod piece (pun intended) was so large there were lots of chunky chips to spare, anyway.

I have enjoyed chunky chips at home and abroad, including, bizarrely, the chunkiest chips I have ever seen served in the middle of France alongside a bavette. In any event, the chunky chips found in the British Isles are, generally speaking, consistently the best. This is, I am sure, in no small part because of the long honed British and Irish talent for deep frying things. A chunky chip has to be well fried so that it’s outside is sufficiently crisp to balance the fleshy inside. But the secret to a great chunky chip must be the kind of potato employed to make them. Just as the vigneron will swear that it’s her terroir that truly makes the wine, so the fry cook might claim that it’s the spud that makes the chip. The chunky chips I’ve had in Wales this week have been what cookbook writers call “floury”, and not “waxy”. Their flesh has a pleasing dry and crumbly quality that marries so well with their crisp and oil-moist exterior. I wished I’d asked my servers what kind of potatoes my chunky chips were made from, but I am on holiday and have been taking a break for journalism (as this piece must demonstrate all too well). My guess is they might have been made with maris piper potatoes, a floury kind that’s the most grown in this country and often mentioned in my cookbooks written by British cooks, but I don’t know. What I do know is that I have been glad for the chunky chips I’ve met on this trip.

P.S. If there is somewhere in or near Toronto doing a great chunky chip, I’d like to know. Please use the comments below or the contact link at the top of the page or find me @malcolmjolley on Twitter.