homemade chips

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.

quartered tortillas

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.

close-up of homemade tortilla chips

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
Canola oil
Sea salt

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.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Lan

    honestly, i can’t imagine you being so wild your freshman year! :) and speeding? you’re so responsible shannalee that i can’t imagine it!
    so my question is, after frying, how did you abode smell? i love fried foods too but after making tempura once, the lingering smell was annoying. i’ve since sworn off frying anything.

  2. TJ

    Way to conquer your fear! Great story!

  3. montague

    oh i do love making my own tortilla chips – i do the same with pita bread too, sprinkled with olive oil, salt and chopped rosemary…

  4. Nick

    Thanks for the love 😉 These are almost dangerous they are so addicting. I always have to make them the same day I need them, even though you can make them days in advance, or I will just devour them all.


  5. The Duo Dishes

    Homemade chips are far better and cheaper than buying a bag of Tostitos. We’re fans of baking and adding lots of seasonings like cayenne, cumin and garlic with a bit of salt. You can dress ’em up or dress ’em down.

  6. Michelle

    I’ve never tried to make my own chips, even though we have “nacho night” every weekend at my house. : ) Thanks for the info. Maybe I’ll give it a try now!

  7. Rachel

    yum yum! we have those .. some with salt and some with cinnamon and sugar!! either way– fab!! :) love the photos….

  8. Jacqui

    you know how i solved the pain of oil-spattering? got a deep-fryer. my advice to you? don’t get a deep-fryer.

  9. kickpleat

    i love homemade tortilla chips! i make them when i make a tortilla soup and just use them as a garnish. what have i been thinking? they need to be the star! next time, i’m making a whole batch :)

  10. Megan

    Hi! My friend dirrected me to your blog a few months ago and I love it. :) I am a writer and I also enjoy cooking. If you are interested, have a look at my craft blog I just started. :) These tortilla chips look good … I like he idea of putting cinnamon and sugar on them. My fav. were the Earl Grey cookies.

  11. Shannalee

    Lan – LOL! Never underestimate the power of a boy in your car. Also, I did a lot of fun/stupid things back then, some that I wish I had guts to still do but most that I wish I could have slapped myself to stop! BTW: I think it depends on the kind of oil and how much of it is used. When my mom makes this one Indian dish—it’s like a crispy, crispy flat dough—the smell is there for at least a day.

    TJ – Thanks!

    Montague – It is taking a great deal of restraint to not leap to the kitchen RIGHT NOW and try what you suggested. Can’t wait.

    Nick – Thank YOU!

    DD – More good ideas!

    Michelle – Your house sounds like the kind of place I’d love.

    Rachel – Hey, a sweet version is a great idea! For sure with pita chips. Making a mental note.

    Jacqui – LOL. Dying to know what that means.

    Kickpleat – I agree!!

    Megan – Thanks so much for visiting (and to your friend for recommending it!) Just between us, the Earl Grey cookies are one of my favorites, too.

  12. Lainey

    i’m glad you deemed this worthy to post. i freaking love homemade chips at restaurants, so this is even better.

  13. Shannalee

    LOL, Lainey. I freaking love them, too.

  14. Amanda

    Okay, now this I need to try. Yummy AND Frugal?! I love your pictures on the blog, Shanna, they make me want to eat whatever is pictured LOL!

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