This isn't revolutionary, by any means, but it's thrilling: last night, we made our own potato chips. Ever since last week, when I made those scrumptious scallion cakes, I've been chomping at the bit to get frying. It's exhilarating, frying food: not only does it make a glorious mess, the result is addictive. I couldn't stop thinking about those scallion cakes -- their crunchy edges, their soft middles, their bold flavor... see, now I want some this instant! But the key to those little buggers is that they are fried: you could fry a shoe and it wouldn't taste half-bad. But when you fry something that already tastes good -- say, Yukon Gold Potatoes -- the result is nearly always to die for. Oh, I know, it's bad for you. Very, very bad. But once in awhile? It's ok -- especially since I don't usually eat fried food when I go out. That's sort of a lie, but we don't even stock potato chips in our apartment anymore. And I haven't eaten McDonald's in months -- I suppose this isn't something that I should be too proud of, but I live in America. There are always at least three McDonald's within walking distance, no matter where I am. I can see one from my office window, for crying out loud: fried food is everywhere. At least I'm making these potatoes myself, so I have some kind of control over the whole thing. We dried the chips pretty thoroughly and didn't salt them too heavily, which are two things that you could rarely ever say about fried food you get in a restaurant, fast food or otherwise.
So, to satisfy my craving for both eating and making fried food, we sliced up two round Yukon Gold potatoes and got to frying yesterday as a nice peppered roast broiled in the oven. It's fairly easy to fry things: all you need is a semi-deep frying pan, a set of tongs, and oil. We used Crisco vegetable oil, which is made from soybeans. Soybean oil has a very high smoke point* -- of about 440º -- which makes it ideal for deep-frying. The concept of smoke points is an essential one to master, especially if you frequently use fats while cooking. It refers to the point at which the fat (usually oil or butter) begins to smoke, which indicates that it is beginning to break down and is no longer good to consume. Essentially, when a fat reaches its smoking point, it burns and becomes unusable. Therefore, a higher smoke point allows one to heat the oil to a temperature that ensures quick, easy, and successful frying. Soybean oil is also wonderful to fry with because it has a mild taste and virtually no discernible flavor, allowing you to fry more delicate foods without fearing that their unique taste will be lost in the process. This is especially true with something like potato chips, which I like to cut extremely thin: they'll still taste like potatoes if you fry them in a mild oil, even if they're skinnier than a sheet of paper.
Fried Yukon Gold Potato Chips
Speaking of cutting the potatoes, D and I tried a new method yesterday, and it was fairly successful. Since we didn't want to stand in the kitchen all day, we decided to only fry two Yukon Gold potatoes, on the large side -- this whole debacle was a test, really, of our frying prowess, especially since I didn't let D participate very much when I made the scallion cakes. We each took a potato and tried separate methods. I did a standard knife-chop while D put our new box-grater to the test: it has three razor-like cuts along one side, sort of like a low-end vertical mandoline. Well, not exactly, but that's the closest thing I can imagine. If you own a box-grater, you'll know what I'm talking about. Anyhow, since this was a new kitchen item, D couldn't resist gliding a potato over it to see exactly how it would slice. It worked fairly well, although the potato was a bit large and kept getting caught on the second blade, and the slices weren't very uniform looking. Some of them were a bit raggedy for my tastes, but that didn't really effect the outcome, so it was fine. I would recommend using a real mandoline or just chopping by hand, though -- it seemed like more trouble than it was worth, especially given the results.
After chopping the potatoes, we poured about 1/2 to 3/4 cups of soybean oil into a frying pan over medium heat. We let the oil sit on the burner until it was wavy and shimmering, then we added about seven slices of potatoes to the oil. They began frying immediately, bubbling and jumping about recklessly. About 2 minutes in, we flipped them over with the tongs and allowed them to cook until both sides were beautifully golden -- about five minutes, total (2 minutes on the first side and 3 on the second.) Since the potatoes are essentially dunked and bathed in the hot oil, there's no need to watch them obsessively to make sure that both sides brown evenly -- the one flip should ensure a pretty even coloring. When they looked crispy, we removed them, one at a time, from the oil and allowed the excess to drip back into the pan. Then, we transferred them to a plate on two paper towels, sprinkled a tiny bit of salt over them, and placed three more towels on top of the potatoes. I patted them dry while D added the next batch to the oil. It took about 30 minutes to complete the entire batch (we got lazy at the end, a bit, and added many more than 7 to the oil) but the labor was well worth it. It was the perfect amount of chips for two people, and I found myself hankering for more. But I'm good -- I had a banana instead. See? Eating fried food doesn't totally ruin you! Especially if you follow it with fruit.
Wow: I just had a thought: fried fruit. Everybody wins!
*For more information on smoke points of other fats, visit this article at Cooking for Engineers, which is one of my favorite cooking websites. Check out the handy conversion window in the top right corner!
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