Potato chop or aloo-r chop is a quintessential part of the telebhaja culture of Kolkata. By the term “telebhaja”, we mean “fried in oil”, and that’s exactly what these represent. Most of the times, these would be ordered from the makeshift shops set up nearby in the evenings, run by people who would be sitting and making batches of telebhaja in a huge kadhai filled with boiling hot oil. There would be a queue and everyone would line up to get their share. As each person would come up to the person making the telebhaja, he/she would look at the offering, either freshly fried or being fried at that point, and make their selection. If something would be missing, they would have to then wait for that to be fried. Ideally, these would not be consumed on their own, but would be put in a paper bag (thonga) with a rupee or two worth puffed rice (moori) and a lone green chilli.
How The Potato Chop Came To Be
The potato chop is an essential part of the telebhaja culture, along with phuloori (Deep fried batter), peyanji (deep-fried onions) and baingan (deep-fried battered aubergine). The term “chop” is a shift from its original meaning, where the original term “chop” had indicated towards a cut, mostly of lamb (mutton) or pork, as per Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, where it states: “Lamb Chops: classic English food, particularly as a luncheon dish. One of the stalwarts of gentlemen’s clubs of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.” The chop that we eat today is a colonial rendition of the dish, with adaptations made to suit not just the temperature but also the availability. Several recipes of mutton ‘chop’, which is more like a croquette than a chop, emerges, with a shape similar to that of a croquette than a chop. The Bengali ‘telebhaja’ shops would adapt them to create vegetarian versions, made with banana flowers, capsicum, tomato, potato and the crumb coated ‘vegetable chop’, consisting mostly of a mixture of beets, with a generous sprinkling of fried peanuts.
Of the numerous ‘telebhaja’ shops in the state, when asked, most people swear by their local favourites. This is because they are best enjoyed immediately after frying, and the flavour dips greatly when allowed to cool. A person good at making these would keep on maintaining the perfect temperature for frying, which would ensure that the fried items do not soak in a lot of oil when being fried. For this, regulating the temperature of the oil, just by understanding what is being fried and how the temperature of the oil can dip or rise accordingly, is an art that very rarely is mastered. In Kolkata, few places can boast of the paper bag remaining relatively oil-free despite being filled to the brim with beguni, phuloori, peyanji, or aloor chop.
“Aloo-r chop, muri and tea in an earthen vessel is part of quintessential Bengali life in Kolkata. It is a simple but delectable snack when made well. Bengalis have adopted potato for almost all courses of a meal, and snacks are no different. I love my version of Aloo-r Chop consisting of a spicy potato mash, flavoured with fenugreek, chilli and fried onion, made into roundels and coated with chickpea batter, then fried to perfection. Sprinkled with rock salt and it’s heavenly for all parties, and we often serve at cocktail parties, since it goes well with wine,” said Chef Sushanta Sengupta, Director, 6 Ballygunge Place Group. These fried goodies are really great with a cocktail or two, and a personal favourite is a glass of off-dry Riesling.
How To Make the Perfect Aloo-r Chop
Three things need to be kept in mind – the first – the potato mash. The mash needs to be smooth, but not gluey. The second is the consistency of the batter. The batter needs to coat the back of the spoon like a dosa batter, not too thick or too runny. If it’s too runny, it will literally fall off the chop and the chop will disintegrate in the oil, and if it’s too thick, it will not coat the chop properly. The third thing is the oil – the oil needs to be hot, but not too hot. A good idea is to check with a wooden chopstick or a small drop of the batter. When you dip the chopstick in oil, if you see bubbles forming around it immediately, it means the oil is good to go. In case you’re using a drop of the batter, once you add it, if it floats on top and turns golden brown in 15 seconds’ time, it means your oil is hot enough for the chops.
- 250 gm. potato, skinned
- 2-3 green chillies, chopped
- Half teaspoon ginger paste
- Half teaspoon cumin seeds
- 5-6 black peppercorn
- 1 dry red chilli
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 100 gm. gram flour (besan)
- 1 pinch baking soda
- 1 pinch carom seeds (ajwain)
- 1 pinch turmeric powder (haldi)
- Salt to taste
- Oil to fry
- Roast the cumin seeds, black peppercorn and dry red chilli on a flat tawa for 1 minute, shaking the pan constantly to ensure they do not burn. Remove from heat, cool down and grind to a coarse powder.
- Boil the potatoes till they are soft. Remove from water, and while still hot, mash it well. Add the ginger paste, flour, salt to taste, chopped green chillies and roasted cumin-chilli-pepper powder.
- Whisk together the besan with water, baking soda (not baking powder), carom seeds, turmeric and salt to make a runny dough that resembles a dosa batter (coats the back of your spoon well). The rule of thumb is to start by adding 1/3rd cup of water per cup of besan, and add more water to ensure the batter is not too thick or thin.
- Heat enough oil in a kadai for deep frying.
- Form small, flat circular tikkis out of the potato. Dip each of these in the batter and quickly drop in the hot oil to fry. Fry over medium heat till the chops look golden. Serve on their own with some tomato ketchup, or over puffed rice (moori).