Friday, September 09, 2005

Of distraction and potato chips

So yes, I'm way behind on math, but there are reasons for that: I've just recently started teaching, and figuring out how to do right by the 29 kids whose only instruction is me for 4.5 hours a week has occupied much of my willingness to explain math for the last several weeks (before that there was another thing, but harder to explain -- I merely assure you of its presence). We'll see when it recovers.

However, via Making Light, I've come across the blog of one Chippie, taking particular interest in her recent potato-chip making foray. I started trying to comment about it, but it got so long it seemed like at least some of my regular readers might take an interest. So, in the spirit of unsolicited advice from strangers, here's what small wisdom I have about chip making (and I must say I can make some pretty decent chips):

-Potato choice. I've only ever fried russets, and I find that they come out remarkably well -- golden brown with a serious potato flavor I've never seen on other chips. I imagine most other potatos are also ok.

-Thin is key -- chips aren't fries. Short of a mandolin or v-slicer (devices that can cut foods into very thin strips), the best way to go is to use a vegetable peeler and peel long strips off the potato. You won't get that nice chip shape, but you will get thin without buying a gadget you may not otherwise need. Also, one potato makes a decent-sized collection of chips, but you'll probably need two or three to replace that Lay's party-size bag.

-Keep the proto-chips soaking in water, but dry them as well as you can (salad spinner, towels) before frying.

-General frying principles: more oil is better. Use a large, heavy vessel, so that the heat will return more quickly to the right temperature after you put in food (it drops due to the additional mass). I use a dutch oven and keep my oil in two green (keeps the light out) wine bottles. Get a fry thermometer and watch it like a hawk -- 375 is good for chips, but going over 400 will spoil your oil (it'll start to burn). Needless to say, use vegetable/canola/corn/peanut oil, not olive or something else with flavor, as such things burn way sooner than 375. You can (and should) save your oil from one session to another: let it cool, filter, store, and reuse.

-Drop in the chips a handful at a time, say 10-15 chips total in a single batch in a reasonable-sized pot (you'll do several). Pull them out when they've almost stopped bubbling, about 3 minutes (they'll still be good even if they've stopped). Remove to draining rack (I like paper towels on a plate), salt, pepper, enjoy. These are certainly my favorite chips (nice and potato-y!).

With practice, you can even peel the strips online -- peel 15, start frying, peel 15 more, pull the others out, start the new batch, season the old, peel 15 more...

The footnote: this recipe is essentially due to Alton Brown in his book "I'm Just Here for the Food," and the chips are extra-good with his version of homemade onion dip, and extra extra good if you make it with your own homemade mayo.