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Dressing–among other things–the English “chip”

I seem to have English “chips” (French fries) most every day. I’ve tried to be on a one-chip-a-day diet, but resistance is often quite futile.

In England, American French fries are called “chips,” and American potato chips are called “crisps.” Both are from potatoes, of course, but somewhere and somehow the words got turned around. The English do an excellent job with chips. American French fries can vary from skinny McDonalds fries to the wonderfully lumpy Dairy Queen fries to thick-cut potato wedges. The English, however, seem to have perfected the lightly fried, thick-fingered (not to be confused with fish fingers) chip. Any of the condiments mentioned elow are also quite wonderful on fish-finger “butties” (sandwiches).

In public houses (pubs) and in most restaurants here, you’ll usually get offered mustard, vinegar, salad dressing, brown sauce, and ketchup for chips and whatever else you might like to smother. Sometimes bottles of these are all housed in a handy tote of some kind. Here’s a short course in British condiments.

Typical condiments

Colman’s mustard. Not often used on chips, but who can resist this spicy mustard on just about everything? Jeremiah Colman began making mustard at a water mill in Bawburgh, a village near Norwich in eastern England. To give his mustard that tang, Colman blended brown and white mustard seeds brought by wagon from Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire or shipped in from Holland.

Heinz salad dressing. A kind of mayonnaisey- or Miracle Whip-type white cream with lumpy bits, like tartar sauce.

HP brown sauce. A Worchestershire-type savory brown sauce that really wakes up a pile of otherwise bland chips. It’s my favorite condiment here. HP Sauce has a base of malt vinegar, blended with tomato, dates, tamarind, sweetener, and spices. It’s used with hot or cold savory foods or in soups. Garton registered the sauce’s name in 1895, calling it “HP” because he had heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had begun serving it. Other versions include:

  • HP Fruity, milder version with a blend of fruits including oranges and mangoes to give a milder, tangier taste, renamed “HP Chicken & Rib” in Canada and the US.
  • HP Bold, a spicier variant.
  • HP Steak Sauce.
  • HP Guinness, which includes Irish stout.
  • A version with 25% less salt (25%) and 30% less sugar.

Heinz ketchup. American ketchup is often available, but I’ve not seen too many people besides Americans use it on chips. Heinz as a company started in the 1870s in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The original “Tomato Ketchup” label had a gherkin pickle. Ketchups originally were made from other fruits and vegetables besides tomatoes. The present label is illustrated with a tomato. Ketchups could also be made from mushrooms, oysters, mussels, or walnuts. Ketchup is also called tomato sauce or red sauce. It is a sweet and tangy sauce, typically made from tomatoes, vinegar, a sweetener, and assorted seasonings and spices. In the United States, high fructose corn syrup sweetens ketchup. Seasonings can vary but typically include onions, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, and sometimes celery..

Vinegar. I’ve seen Canadians and the French sprinkle straight vinegar onto their chips, but I don’t see it used much in England. A splash of it does give chips a wonderful spicy zing, but, if you’re not used to it, the vapors can go straight up your nose.

Not-so-typical condiments

Tabasco sauce. My B&B server lays out at breakfast, though I have yet to see it used on eggs or anything else.

Chutneys. Developed from South Asia, chutneys are almost jam-like and excellent with any meat. Also called chatney or chatni, chutney is a family of condiments with mixtures of spices, vegetable/s, and/or fruit/s. I had three exquisite dollops of different chutneys to accompany the ham in my fabulous ploughman’s lunch in Dorchester recently.

Onion gravy. I was served a pitcher of excellent meat-juice-and-onion gravy with a chicken dish in Weymouth, and I also poured some of this over my chips. Quite tasty.

Whether you like your chips, sandwiches, meat, or veggies sweet or savory, condiments certainly brighten and enhance the floavors. Try them all.

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