The only time I spent in the food industry professionally, I was being paid $125 a week and living in the place where I worked, as a full-time waitress and a part-time counselor at a camp in northern Wisconsin.
It was the summer after my freshman year, a nine-month span I’d spent in Florida, doing crazy things like, instead of studying, taking impromptu trips to away soccer games, sneaking away with girlfriends to the beach and, worse, speeding over 100 miles per hour down a causeway. I still remember the brown-haired boy in the car with me, sticking his head out the sunroof, laughing, hitting his nose against the ledge of my awful magenta car, making the bridge between his eyes bleed when we hit a bump in the road.
By the end of that year, the first I’d spent away from home, I’d been through bedbugs (and the resulting moving, moving again in response), an attempt to give blood (in which I passed out), my first really, really terrible report card and the most terrific case of homesickness you’ve ever seen. Even looking back, I don’t know what prompted me to, instead of returning home, move to Wisconsin, but that’s what I did.
I’d signed up, willing to do anything, and by some act of grace, I wasn’t assigned cleaning duty. Instead, they put me in the kitchen.
Early mornings, before campers and counselors were awake, I’d walk in the almost daylight to the white dining hall, the scent of warm yeast in the air. I pulled trays of puffy doughs and fresh-made eggs off the rolling warmers and set them in the buffet line. I collected dishes from round tables covered in plastic tablecloths. Sometimes, I even got tips: one elderly man told me he wanted to give me little something, as he handed me a $5. I almost cried.
When the weather was nice, the kitchen crew transported things to a picnic area in the woods, complete with an outdoor cooking area and tables lined up for a food line. It was there that I burned myself for the first time, just slightly while I carried a hot plate, causing a small scab to grow over my left forearm.
In a lot of ways, I think it’s good to burn yourself early: it gives you a healthy respect for cooking tools, and you think more carefully when you’re working with them. But in my case, that summer, in addition to convincing me never to go back to that college in Florida, also gave me an irrational fear, and I have avoided a lot of things since—things like hot oil, bubbling and popping in a pan on the stove, which is something of a problem for a fried-food-lover like myself.
So the recipe that got me to conquer those fears would have to be a pretty special recipe, don’t you think?
Enter homemade tortilla chips.
These chips are everything I was looking for: easy, cheap, fast and, more than anything, absolutely wonderful to eat. I first saw a version of them over at Macheesmo, where he swore they’d be better than anything you could buy. Looking for an alternative (sans frying), I found baked options, and, as a test, I tried those, too.
Trust me when I say this: These chips are better.
The instructions are so simple, I could recite them in conversation, without looking for my notes or consulting a resource, and that’s saying something: Get a package of corn tortillas and quarter them (as in above photo). Heat up some canola oil in a large skillet, and lay the tortilla triangles inside, arranging them in a single layer and flipping them a couple times (I used a metal salad tongs). You could add a tiny bit of sea salt at this stage, but it’s not necessary. You’ll mostly want to add that after they’ve cooked, when the salt soaks right in. When they’re crispy, take the chips out of the pan and set them on a towel to dry, and you’re set. That’s it. Really.
When these were done, piled high in my beautiful white Pyrex bowl that I bought at an antique store for a few (!) bucks (!), I pulled out some leftover taco meat and sat, munching, perfectly happy. These chips—almost too easy to be worth posting—are some good chips, with a bit of chewiness amidst the crunch and a perfectly salted flavor that complements tacos or salsa or guacamole.
They’re also the chips that got me over frying, and, for that, I love them.
About Page Oy with the announcements already, right? Just one more: I’ve updated the about page with some FAQ, and I’d love to get your feedback.
Homemade Tortilla Chips
Adapted from Nick at Macheesmo
One package of soft corn tortillas
Stack the tortillas and, using, a big and sharp knife, slice them long-wise and tall-wise, giving you four triangles for each tortilla. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat canola oil (or peanut oil) until hot, and add a layer of triangles, trying not to overlap. Flip them a couple times as they cook, and when they are crispy, arched, no longer laying flat on the pan and no longer sizzling, remove them and place on paper towels to dry. Add sprinkles of sea salt to taste and throw them in a bowl.