Homemade Potato Chips/photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

What are the most special things we can cook? I contend the most special preparations are not those that are most difficult, time-consuming, or use the most expensive ingredients, but rather the ones that result in food we can’t buy. I can make bread, and it’s really good, and fun to bake and fills the house with a great aroma.  But it’s not going to be as good as the baguettes I can buy at On the Rise bakery. A preparation such as mayonnaise, however, that’s different. You can’t buy mayonnaise that’s as good as mayonnaise you make. It doesn’t exist. Potato chips are another such food. I like Lays potato chips just as I like Helmann’s mayonnaise, and on a Saturday afternoon, if I want a quick sandwich and chips, I’m glad to have the convenience of store bought mayo and chips, not to mention sandwich bread. I’m glad I don’t have to make everything from scratch when I’ve got a lot of other things to do.

But it’s important to recognize that Lays chips and chips you make yourself are so different we should have different names for them. Chips still warm from the fat, lightly salted are like no other chip.  They’re easy to make, and, if you store and reuse your oil properly, they’re not expensive.

It’s critical to have one of these things, a Benriner mandolin. The mandoline not only allows you to cut a whole potato into chips in seconds, it also ensures that the chips are all the same size, and therefore cook in the same time.

I deep fry in a 7-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, my favorite big pot (expensive but worth it—one of the essentials OpenSky has included in last week’s giveaway, details here, still time to sign in), filling it up about a third of its height.  Two and a half to three inches. You need to have plenty of oil so that when you add the chips, the temperature doesn’t drop to the point where they are poaching in oil. They should bubble immediately as the moisture vaporizes and leaves the oil as steam. The only trick is to ensure that the chips don’t stick together. If you lower them all at once into the oil, they can clump. So what I do is, when the oil is between 350 and 375 degrees, I call Donna or James, and two of us deal the chips individually into the oil as one deals playing cards.  You’ve got to do this fast or the first ones in the oil will be overcooked by the time the last ones are barely done.  Stir them frequently, and remove them with a spider or a Chinese basket strainer (inexpensive invaluable tool available at most Asian markets). Last, you can’t put too many in at once, or again, you’ll drop the oil’s temperature too far, so I do one large potato at a time, keeping the first batch warm in the oven as I cook the second batch.

Homemade potato chips are the best.

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© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.