Chips & Salsa (2018)

Freshly made tortilla chips paired with a jar of homemade salsa. Unfortunately, I can't find any photos for this one except the labels.

Salsa is pretty straightforward: I bought a few #10 cans of Cento whole tomatos, chopped them up and added a mixture of chopped onions, jalapeño peppers, and spices. The recipe was derived from the USDA-sanctioned one summarized here. Strictly speaking, increasing the prescribed amount of onions and peppers isn't allowed. But the ingredients are listed by volume (like "3 cups of chopped onions" -- what does that even mean?) making it all somewhat arbitrary and unscientific, so I may have used too much. Nonetheless, I did test the pH of the salsa before canning, and it was less than 4 which puts it into a safe range.

Making tortilla chips is surprisingly simple. Well, especially if you "cheat" and start with store-bought corn tortillas :)

There were a few interesting things I learned while making them. One, the initial moisture content affects how crispy the end result becomes. Lower starting moisture makes a harder chip, and higher starting moisture makes a more tender chip. I bought out the local Target's supply of Mission yellow corn tortillas, which were at or past their expiration date and so a little on the dry side. I experimented with baking them first, but they were actually perfect as-is.

The other important variable is the oil temperature for frying. A quick search online for similar recipes yields a ton of results recommending temperatures ranging from 350-400°F, which in my experience is way too hot. I won't name names, but the top results on Google right now for "Fried Tortilla Chips" all show perfect examples of why you don't want to fry them at such a high temperature. The edges wind up dark while the centers remain pale. You don't get that perfectly uniform yellow colored chip. And the Maillard reaction that caused the dark edges imparts a strong bitter taste that overwhelms the flavor of the chip.

The trick is to fry at 300°F. This came from a research paper I read that was studying the effect of moisture and fry temperature of corn tortilla chips. Unfortunately I can't find a link to it anymore. But more precisely, I did this:

  • Heat the oil to 315°F.
  • Place half of a 24 tortilla stack (that is, 72 individual chips, when each stack is cut into six pieces) into the oil.
  • The temperature will drop to about 275°F.
  • Keep the heat high enough to bring it back to 300°F.
  • When the chips stop boiling, it means all the moisture has been removed and the chips are done. This took 3 minutes and 15 seconds per batch.

After removing the fried chips from the oil, I sprinkled with kosher salt (which has more surface area than regular salt) and placed the still-hot chips in a salad spinner. This flings off a lot of excess oil, leaving the chips flavorful but not greasy to the touch. Stored air-tight, they keep for a long time.

Updated by Luke on May 23, 2024 Posted by Luke on March 13, 2023