Chinese migrants across the globe have a knack for tweaking a menu. Their ability to pick up on local preferences have brought us a plethora of takeaway favourites like honey chicken or sweet and sour pork here in Australia, and in the US, the somewhat controversial, honey walnut shrimp, made with deep-fried shrimp and candied walnuts tossed in a mayo-based sauce.
That aside, salt and peppering things like crisp bits of squid or batons of silky eggplant and tofu is something Cantonese migrants didn’t need to adjust for local palates. That’s until the UK got involved, bringing us the beautiful fusion creation that is salt and pepper chips.
Frank Shek, who grew up in Edinburgh and now owns Sydney restaurant China Doll, says salt and pepper chips are a fairly recent invention. “It certainly wasn’t on the menu when I was growing up in a takeaway!” he tells SBS. Shek is no stranger to a chip fusion but hadn’t heard of the dish until more recently.
Salt and pepper chips are as simple as salt and pepper squid or eggplant, instead of subbing out the protein/fried veg for batons of fluffy and crisp chips. The chips, already a perfect vessel for salt or seasoning, cling to a mix of Chinese spices, chilli, and pieces of sautéed onion and capsicum.
“Times change and evolve and this is a great Asian take on loaded fries,” says Shek.
Search the hashtag #saltandpepperchips or #saltandchillichips on Instagram and you’ll be met with a grid of five spice-seasoned chip shots from chip lovers from across the UK. The dish is typically sourced from Chinese takeaway shops rather than classic chip shops due to its inclusion of a wok, however, many posts come from diners creating the dish at home.
While some claim salt and pepper chips are a Scottish staple, an article by The Liverpool Echo claims the dish is all thanks to Chinese immigrants who came to Liverpool and opened chip shops in the mid-90s.
"Due to picky customers, the salt and pepper chips were created.”
Local restaurant owner, Kin Liu who runs Chamber 36 told The Liverpool Echo that there was always demand for items like salt and pepper chicken wings or ribs, “and due to picky customers, the salt and pepper chips were created.”
It’s a cult dish across the UK but our mission today is to spread its glory to Australia.
Shek makes salt and pepper chips as a popular staff snack at China Doll but says he’s also had it at Two Sticks in Barangaroo. Their offering is a little left of field from the UK salt and pepper chips, but you can find it on the menu under ‘Yunnan signature fries’.
How to make salt and pepper chips
- 1 packet frozen chips of choice (900 g-1 kg)
Pre-heat your oven or oil for frying according to frozen chip packet instructions.
Meanwhile, thinly slice:
- 1 long red chilli
- 1 long green chilli
- 2 shallots
- 2 cloves garlic
In a small bowl mix the salt and pepper ingredients:
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp white pepper, ground
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp five-spice powder
Set aside and place your chips in the oven or oil to cook. A few minutes before the chips are ready, heat a large wok or frypan over high heat. Add the chopped chilli and garlic, cook for a few seconds until the garlic softens but doesn't burn.
Add your cooked chips, the spring onion and salt and pepper powder, toss well to combine. Serve hot.
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