Today we're getting chip-faced on two super-premium potato chips that hail from the British Isles: Tyrrell's Hand Cooked English Crisps and Keogh's Hand Cooked [Irish] Crisps.
First off let me clarify that they are both cooked in oil by hand, not actually cooked in hands. With that FAQ out of the way, I should warn readers that both brands are a serious departure from last session's Ruffles manfest. But that's not even a fair starting point. These brands are a giant leap away from almost any chip on the market.
Why? Well, let's start off on the back of the bag. Keogh's and Tyrrell's both provide a lot more information than your average chipmaker. Tyrrell's lists the potato variety used and the town in which is was grown.
Impressed? Yeah I was too, until I looked at the back of a bag of Koegh's and saw that in addition to spud variety, they also list the field (!) in which the potatoes were grown and the employee who cooked the darn things. My three bags were cooked by Kevin, Peter, and Darren, respectively.
So beyond smart branding, do potato variety, field of origin, or cook matter in terms of taste and texture? Personally I think Kevin, Peter, and Darren all did a fine job frying their respective batches. Pints all around, lads! In terms of field differences, I am afraid I'm ill-equipped to compare, given that all the Keogh's spuds came from the same (prolific) plot, Rathbeale. Variety on the other hand, now that's something we can discuss.
It seems that even potato varieties are prim and proper across the pond. All of the Tyrrell's flavors I tasted were fried from Lady Rosetta potatoes, with the exception of the Worcestershire Sauce & Sundried Tomato flavor, which were Lady Claires.
Besides a difference in skin color (the Rosettas appear to be a red-skinned variety, while the Claires brown) I found the major distinction to be textural. The Lady Rosetta produces a chip with a seriously dense crunch, while the Lady Claire makes for a crispier, lighter chip*. As you can (hopefully) see above, the harder chips, fried from the Lady Rosettas, are relatively smooth and feature a modest amount of air pockets, while the Lady Claires produce chips which are heavily pockmarked with small bubbles. This compromised structure leads to fragile, crispy chips.
All three of the Keogh's flavors were made from Lady Rose potatoes and featured a delicate snap much like the Lady Claires.
*Curious about the difference between crunchy and crispy? Check out my post on it here.
All three potato varieties are mighty tasty—earthy, sweet, and lingering—and neither brand seems to want to cover it up. Across the board, flavorings are applied judiciously, and for the most part this is a good thing. There were however, a few misses.
I tasted all of the Tyrrell's flavors currently marketed in the United States, though I'm very interested in trying their UK-only selection, particularly Sunday Best Roast Chicken and Ludlow Sausage and Mustard.
Tyrrell's Sea Salt & Cider Vinegar just leave my tongue begging for more acidity. And their Sweet Chili & Red Pepper chips feel noncommittal—if you're hesitant to add real sweet chili flavor or red pepper heat, why promise it on the front? Their Salt and Cracked Black Pepper chips succumb to the perennial salt and pepper chip problem. The pepper tastes stale and dusty, one step away from the pre-ground stuff sealed in paper pouches at your local McDonald's. Small missteps aside, when Tyrrell's are good, they're seriously good.
Their Lightly Sea Salted chips remind me a lot of Cape Cod chips: crunch, potato, and salt with little else to distract. The Worcestshire Sauce & Sundried Tomato chips are mild at first crunch, but quickly reveal a complex blend of savory spices, tomato, acidity, and mild heat. And their most immediately gratifying and hard-to-quit flavor, Mature Cheddar & Chives, gets the job done with yeast extract and real cheddar cheese.
Here I again stuck with the U.S. offerings, though I think we as a nation are ready for Roast Beef & Irish Stout and Roast Turkey & Secret Stuffing flavored chips. Americans love a good secret stuffing!
If you thought Keogh's back-of-the-bag information was charming, it only gets better from there. For one, if you like their chips, you can check out their website and find folks who will sell you the same variety of potato used for the chips as fresh spuds (why anyone would choose fresh potatoes over chips is a bit beyond the grasp of this columnist). Even more interesting for me was one of their chip flavors: Shamrock & Sour Cream.
The only shamrocks I've ever eaten had the texture of space ice cream and came out of a red cereal box featuring a rainbow-surfing leprechaun. Yet a little light reading reveals that shamrocks were indeed relatively common fare (eaten much like watercress) in Ireland up until the 17th century when they began their enthusiastic leap from the dinner table into symbolism and eventually onto hats and wool sweaters.
Regardless, having never eaten fresh shamrock before I have little reference for these chips. They do have small green flecks on them and with my eyes closed I think I taste something slightly grassy.
Keogh's Atlantic Sea Salt & Irish Cider Vinegar chips are pretty sweet with a nominal vinegar bite and something round and creamy in the background. They are good because of their great potato flavor, but not the most intense salt and vinegar chip. My top Koegh's pick is their Dubliner Irish Cheese & Onion chips. A far more subtle affair than Tyrrell's cheese and onion offering, these guys are nonetheless addicting. I get more onion than Dubliner, and it works.