The Best Of British? – The Chip Butty

On another site, I was recently asked:

‘ …If someone came to your city / country for the first time, what would be the traditional, or ‘typical’ dishes they should experience at least once? ‘ 

I knew the answer to this question immediately: a real, homemade, no-nonsense, doesn’t need ‘owt else with it, Chip Butty.

When I was growing up, this was what I wanted when the day was cold and I was hungry and needed to eat RIGHT NOW:

I had my best Chip Butty ever at a railway café on a platform in Sheffield Station in the mid-1970s. I shouldn’t have been there. I should have been in the Peak District with my friends but I’d missed my stop and ended up in Sheffield. I was even more miserable that the weather. I didn’t want to be there. I was, cold, tired, hungry and embarrassed at my own ineptitude. I had an hour to wait for a train that could take me back to the hills and I wandered in to a small, grubby café on the platform. I wanted a cup of tea, hot black and strong but as soon as I stepped inside. I caught the smell, a wonderful, heartwarming, day-rescuing, dignity-restoring smell of real chips being fried. When I saw Chip Butty on the chalk menu, I knew everything would be ok.

So what is a Chip Butty and how do you make it?

It’s a very simple dish but the ingredients and the timing have to be right to experience it at its best

First, the chips have to be real chips, not French Fries. Real chips are thick cut, soft, not crispy, with the outside skin cooked just enough to be firm while leaving the inside almost moist so that it melts in the mouth. The nearest foreign equivalents are Steak Fries or Frites Pont-Neuf, although both of them are usually dryer and firmer than real chips.

Second, the bread should be plain medium sliced white bread. Thick sliced will overwhelm the chips. Thin sliced won’t hold everything together. Back in Sheffield, it looked to me like they’d used Mother’s Pride (similar to Wonder Bread in the US).

Third, you need real salted butter, generously spread on both pieces of bread so that there is a layer of butter between the chips and the bread.

Fourth. the hot chips need to be placed onto the lower slice of bread so that it’s totally covered. One layer will do. Two layers are better.

Fifth, the top piece of bread is placed, butter side down over the chips and pressed firmly into place.

Allow a second or two for the chips to start to melt the butter and then serve at once.

There are those who would add ketchup or brown sauce, but I think they’re not showing enough confidence in the pure product.

A real chip butty deserves to be eaten with your fingers, which can be licked clean of chip fat and melted butter at the end and should be accompanied by a mug of strong tea, preferably Yorkshire, made in a pot or, as it was back in Sheffield Station, made in an urn.

Bonus material

When I was looking for a picture of Mothers Pride, (this is an apostrophe-free bread) I came across this TV advert by a young Dusty Springfield, who was then emerging as a pop star. 

For those of you with no first-hand knowledge of England in the 1960s, I should explain that a knocker-upper was a man paid to knock on the windows of workers so that they would wake up in time to make their very early shifts.

And yes, the streets really did look like that. Some of them still do except now they’d have cars parked outside.

2 thoughts on “The Best Of British? – The Chip Butty

  1. A Wonder bread & french fry sandwich is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard of, Mike! I’ll take our word for it that it’s worth eating, haha.

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  2. It’ll be my Glasgow upbringing, but my chip butties were always in a morning roll (the kind that’s a bit black on top and definitely no sesame seeds). And yes, they had to be proper chips, almost soggy – though maybe that was from the vinegar 🙂

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