Obviously, I’m in a potato mood.
A few days ago, it was the potato gratin. A couple of days before that, it was some gorgeous horseradish potatoes at Buckley’s, on lower Queen Anne, so rich and happily gluten-free that I made noises as I ate. (That could also have something to do with the medium-rare rib-eye that was perched on top of the potatoes.) And this morning? Well.…
Did you know that most commercially produced potato chips have gluten on them? Certainly, the salt and vinegar chips are always going to be gluten-filled, because the malt in the malt vinegar comes from barley. That’s two ways I can’t eat fish and chips in England anymore, and that makes me a little sad. No standing in front of the little takeaway just off the Camden Town tube stop, shaking my fingers from the heat and grease, gulping down chunks of flaky, breaded fish and thick-cut chips with an ounce of malt vinegar and about a pound of salt. When I lived in Highgate with the CFP, I used to get off the tube, late at night, a few stops early, just to buy those fish and chips. Eating salt and vinegar chips (crisps in England, of course) always makes me remember those moments. But now, I can never have them again.
But it turns out that I can’t eat most potato chips either. Or at least, I have to tread carefully. Because some companies, like Frito-Lay, publish lists of gluten-free products online. (Thank goodness for the internet, on so many levels. Having to live gluten-free is infinitely easier with google than it must have been fifteen years ago.) But when I scan them, I see some varieties are gluten-free. But most are not. Terra Chips, the gourmet chips with exotic vegetables, should be gluten-free. But some of the varieties are not. I learned that the hard way, earlier this summer. Tim’s Cascade chips, which I believe are the best-tasting, packaged potato chips in the world, have quite a few gluten-free varieties (phew), but some are not. Did you know that the bulk of potato chips have wheat starch on them? Probably to make the flavorings stick. Most of us don’t care. I know I didn’t, for years. But now, I need to care. So many of us do. And if I want to buy potato chips, I have to go to the supermarket with a printed-out list of products I can eat. This sort of takes the spontaneity out of it. After all, eating potato chips is only a sometime indulgence anyway. (Or at least it should be.)
So this morning, in honor of the latest food blog competition, hosted by the lovely Linda, from At Our Table, I decided to make my own potato chips. Why not? If they’re going to be an occasional indulgence, why not truly enjoy the indulgence?
As with everything else I have made this summer, I’m shocked at how uncomplicated and satisfying is the process of making foods by hand that I have only ever bought before.
Thanks to my handy mandoline, it’s easy to slice the potatoes fairly thin. I had a Yukon gold potato, a red-skinned potato, and a sweet potato. Why not mix? ‘
It’s important, I found out from reading, to soak the potato slices in water. This way, they slough off their starchiness. Why is this important? Well, according to Meri, when she makes her tortilla de patatas, the dish comes out creamy from the starch. But the starch would just make a potato chip flubby. And no one wants a flubby potato chip.
Meri came over to help me. We were going to the Ballard Farmers’ Market later, our little paean to late summer, meandering around the market, marveling at the varieties of tomatoes and peaches. But when I told her I was making potato chips from scratch, for the first time, she jumped at the chance to help. “I remember my grandmothers making potato chips,” she told me. One lived in the Bronx. The one who lived in Ecuador made her chips over a coal stove. I love that cooking connects me to the rest of the world. What I wouldn’t give to see what Meri has seen: strolling the streets of Riobamba, watching women cut slices of potato and flipping them into black cauldrons full of hot oil, then serving them to you, immediately.
According to stories told for centuries, the first potato chips sold in the United States were made by a Native American chef named George Crum, in a fancy lodge in upstate New York. Some wealthy customer (supposedly Cornelius Vanderbilt) complained that his fried potatoes were too thick. The chef made them thinner, but that plate was sent back too. To spite the customer, Crum sliced the potatoes impossibly thin, so thin that the customer’s fork was sure to shatter the potato, and thus ruin his dining experience. However, Rich Guy loved them. That’s how the potato chip was born.
Thank you, Mr. Crum.
So Meri and I dried off potato slices with paper towels, while we listened to Daler Mehndi and danced in the kitchen. I threw some safflower oil in my trusty skillet and waited for it to heat. There. Finally. I had no idea just how much joy I would take in hearing the sizzle of potatoes in the skillet. We watched them curl and buckle, turning darker as they heated. (And once again, I’m struck by the thought: how many chemicals must be in packaged food to keep them all such perfect blond yellow?) I kept asking Meri, like a little child, “Do you think they’re ready yet? Are they ready?” Thank goodness for her patience and experience. She persuaded me to wait a few more moments.
The first batch was fantastic. The second batch was even better, because the oil was scalding hot. And by the third batch of potato chips—golden; dark brown; shriveled, imperfect; studded with sea salt and pepper; slithering with taste; absolutely right—I had made my decision. I’m never buying another bag of potato chips. Who needs them, when I can make my own, one perfect chip?
I’m lucky I stopped to take pictures of the chips on the counter by the skylights. Because they didn’t last long. I’m pretty sure Meri and I ate them all within five minutes. And we walked around the Ballard market afterwards, sighing with happiness.This Spanish dish, sliced and topped with aioli, would be great for a tapas meal.
–one large white onion, chopped fine
–2 1/2 pounds of Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, peeled, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
–8 eggs, beaten
–1/4 cup of olive oil
–salt and white pepper to taste
°Saute the onions in the oil, until translucent.
°Drain the oil from the onions with a sieve.
°Keep the remaining oil to cook the potatoes.
°Fry the potatoes until they are golden-brown.
°Let the onions and potatoes cool on separate plates.
°Mix the potatoes and onions in with the beaten eggs.
°Transfer the mixture to a cast-iron skillet. On medium to low heat, cook the mixture until the potato, onion, and eggs are set.
°With a large, flat plate covering the skillet, flip the pan, then move the mixture back into the skillet, with the bottom side up.
°Cook until brown.
Eat away, my dears.