recipe

friday fry: homemade tortilla chips!

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Who doesn’t love tortilla chips? When we were growing up, my mom didn’t keep many snack foods in the house (“if I buy them, they’ll just get eaten!” — sorry, Mom! You were right!). However, I could usually count on finding a bag of tortilla chips and a big jar of salsa in the fridge, and it was always a really satisfying snack.

While bagged tortilla chips from the supermarket are a decent value and can certainly be tasty enough, you can get much better results for a lot less money by frying them yourself at home. I used to bake my chips. This works pretty well, but after a while I realized that about as much oil was going into the baked chips as it was the fried chips (effectively oven-frying something is a real pain in the ass, and you always end up using more oil than you think you will. Plus, even if you have a great oven — which I don’t — your chips will not brown evenly). Frying chips works really well because they cook quickly and you don’t have to be really fastidious about oil temperature. With even a few cups of oil in a small saucepan, you can pump out a party’s worth of chips in less than half an hour, and all for about a dollar or two.

First, consider your frying vessel. I’m using a wok, but you can use any pan you like, as long as it can hold about 2″ of oil with a few more inches of space above that (so while your straight sided saute pan or cast iron pan would actually probably work fine, you probably want something with taller sides).

Second, consider your oil storage system. For small-batch frying, I like to buy a fresh container of vegetable oil and use it only for frying. If you’re just using this for chips, a medium-ish container is fine – something that costs about $3.19 at the grocery store. Label it “FRYING OIL” and strain your cooled oil back into it when you’re done; you’ll be able to re-use this for a long time, especially if you’re not frying meat in the oil.

Third, consider your tortillas. Flour tortillas make especially light and crispy chips, because the tortillas themselves are made with fat. While these are a delicious indulgence every once in a while, I usually avoid them at home and instead opt for my favorite fridge staple: corn tortillas. A stack of 75 corn tortillas costs about $3 and will give you between 450 and 600 chips, assuming you don’t waste any of those on tacos .

Looking for something to enjoy with your tortilla chips? Try guacamole or any homemade salsa , or do what I do when I don’t feel like making salsa: pick up a can or jar of Herdez brand Salsa Casera. You can find this in the Latin foods section of your grocery store — it’s usually sold in smallish cans for about $2/can (I saw some larger jars on sale at the Grocery Outlet and I bought a whole flat of them… we have almost depleted our stock, and I am regretting not buying more). This is THE JAM. I really don’t know how they do it, and I can’t even place the flavor that makes this stuff so great — I guess it’s pretty salty and garlic-forward, with a good dose of vinegar — but seriously, it is hands-down the best prefab salsa you can buy. If you take one thing away from this post, it should be this: you need to buy and eat more Herdez Salsa Casera.

Ready to fry? OK! Let’s go!

Heat your oil over medium-high heat. You want it to get up to about 350 degrees. A thermometer is best, but if you don’t have one I give you permission to cheat a bit here: drop in a bit of tortilla. Does it brown fairly quickly and consistently? Then you’re probably fine. Go for it.

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While the oil is heating, prepare your tortillas: cut the tortillas into sixths or eighths.

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Get your draining rig ready. I like to have two bowls: a medium-sized bowl lined with paper towels for draining and salting, and a larger bowl for the drained, hot chips.

When the oil is ready, carefully drop in about 10-15 chips. Stir gently with a skimmer until they are golden-brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with a spider or skimmer to your paper towel-lined bowl and toss with a good pinch of salt, then start on your next batch.

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If you’re not sure whether or not your chips are delicious, I have a small bear who would be happy to taste them for you and let you know.

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This one, for example, was so tasty that Walter took it back to his crate to enjoy in peace and quiet.

Fried Tortilla Chips

makes as many chips as you want — figure about 4-5 tortillas per person for snacks and appetizers

Ingredients

corn tortillas (stale are fine)
vegetable oil for frying
salt

Directions

Cut the tortillas into sixths or eighths. Pour the oil into a pan for frying (saucepans are fine; you’ll use less oil but you won’t be able to cook as many chips at once. I prefer a Dutch oven or wok). Heat the oil over medium-high heat until the temperature reaches about 350 on an instant-read thermometer (or use a candy thermometer clipped in the pan).

When the oil is ready, carefully drop in about 10-15 chips. Stir gently with a skimmer until they are golden-brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with a spider or skimmer to your paper towel-lined bowl and toss with a good pinch of salt, then start on your next batch.

Continue until you have as many chips as you’ll want / need. Cooked chips will stay warm and crisp in their bowl; if you’re using a metal bowl, you can place them in a 200 degree oven for up to an hour or so if you want to serve them warm.

Sealed in a bag or plastic container, these chips will keep for a few days.

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