Believe it or not, I once went through a period of completely shunning any offering or notion of steak and chips. I am not entirely sure why. Perhaps it came from an early education at The Dick Turpin, which was the restaurant of choice when I younger, to celebrate family birthdays and anniversaries. It was also a Beefeater and whilst I am sure that the chain has made great strides going forward, back in the day ordering a prerequisite rump steak, well done, usually signalled that a frantic sawing session would soon be making its way to the table. ‘Happy Birthday!’ we would all often cry and then race off with arms juddering back and forth, meat fibres flying up into the air. Hmm, that could be what put me off steak and chips. Still, the onion rings were always pretty good.
The more I think about it though, I think this rebuff boils down to forming a bit of a snobbish attitude when I began to eat out by myself and explore food in the late 90’s. Why would I want this tired old combination when I could throw plates of say, sea bass, rocket and Parmesan down my neck? Yes, it was all grilled aubergines and chicken breast stuffed with pesto back then, topped with sun-dried tomatoes, and more shaved Parmesan. Oh and tom yum, that wonderfully fiery yet sour Thai soup. That stuff was amazing, sprinkled with extra Parmesan and maybe a dash of balsamic reduction. Or maybe not. I think I am getting confused now but I certainly wasn’t eating much in the way of steak and chips. Because that was b-o-r-i-n-g.
Thankfully, this silly chapter didn’t last too long and I soon came back to my senses because let’s face it, when done right, steak and chips is hard to beat. Give me a cut of bavette, thoroughly seasoned, lightly oiled and whacked into a scorching hot pan for two minutes either side and I will be a happy man. It’s a formula that doesn’t need messing around with. As for chips, well I don’t mind tinkering around with them to get a decent result. Triple cooked spuds, cut into square chunks are always a good bet, as are wedges coated in herbs and rustic with the skin still on. I’d like to try and make curly wurly fries but I can’t bring myself to buy a spiraliser just yet. Matchstick frites, of course, reign supreme.
It is refreshing sometimes though to put potatoes out of the picture and go for something different, which is where polenta chips come in. An Italian staple, polenta is ground maize essentially, or cornmeal, and can be used in a variety of ways. As a coating when used dry, or when used wet as a sort of grainy, yellow porridge – which doesn’t sound overly pleasant but believe me, it really is rather nice. Polenta also sets very well and this is how we get around to making chips, by slicing slabs up into uniform rectangles and then deep frying or baking them. I prefer the latter, by the way.
Polenta can be a little bit bland though, so plenty of seasoning is required and I find that a mashoosive fistful of cheese such as Gruyère doesn’t go amiss either. The flavour compounds in this type of hard cheese to lend a lovely, brothy hit of umami which goes particularly well with steak, so it’s quite a harmonious match. The best thing about polenta chips of course, is that they look just like chips and you can catch people off guard when serving them. Watch their faces as it takes them a second or two to work out what is going on, before they tuck back in, for that complimenting mouthful of caramelised beef. Steak and chips will never be off the menu again.