A chip off the old blockIt's not that I need an excuse to indulge in my favorite junk snack food, potato chips.
But when I heard Dirk Burhans, author of the scholarly CRUNCH! A History of the Great American Potato Chip, interviewed on NPR, I had license to crunch my way through six states. Burhans confirmed what I had always suspected: I wasn't just pigging out when I sought out regional chips. I was engaging in culinary anthropology.
"This is my scholarly pursuit," I said to myself as I grabbed a bag of Tom's in Tennessee. "Just doin' my homework," I muttered under my breath when I snagged a bag of Mister Bees (my home town's regional chip) in West Virginia.
"Say 'Mister Bee,' please." On second thought, don't bother.
But in spite of Burhans' recommendation of chips fried in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (I forget his rationale), I was disappointed. They left a waxy aftertaste in my mouth.
I discovered the perfect potato chip while driving through eastern Ohio, considered the Mecca of the local chip. These didn't come in a bag. The straight-from-the-fryer potato chips, made to order, were as local and delicious as you can get.
In Southern California, Nick and Stef's in downtown LA once served a homemade potato chip during their happy hour, but they cut them off a couple years ago. Smitty's in Pasadena still serves a hot-0ff-the-fryer chip, free at the bar or $5 from the menu. The free chips make up for the double-digit Manhattan I like to order at the bar.
Inspired by the chips I crunched in Ohio, I decided to try my hand at chip making. I borrowed Altadena Hiker's mandolin and went to work slicing the spuds. I heated the vegetable oil to 375 degrees, fried the potatoes to a golden brown and sprinkled with sea salt.
Here's what I discovered. The perfect potato chip is imperfect. Some cooked dark brown, others light. Some paper thin, others thicker.
And as it turns out, I have a knack for imperfection.