Summer is upon us, and, as the first decent tomatoes ripen, and, as the first proper avocados become rich with the first full flavor of the year, visions of pico de gallo and kindred salsas beckon, along with bowls of genuinely full-bodied guacamole. Ah … but what about the corn chips to accompany them? Have you ever considered making your own rather than buying them pre-fab, as it were? After all, a corn chip is simply a piece of fried corn tortilla; all a chip needs to be something special is a truly distinguished corn tortilla in the first place. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s, of all places, has just what you’re looking for … a genuine antidote to all of those thin and insipid supermarket versions. In the bread section of your local T.J’s, look for the 12 oz. package that reads “Trader Joe’s Corn Tortillas, made from freshly ground corn.” You won’t believe the depth of the corn flavor these hefty beauties provide.
Each package holds 12 tortillas, and all you need to do is cut them into quarters. In a 12-inch non-stick frying pan, heat about an inch of Canola oil to ca. 350° and you’re ready to go. The pan will hold about 10 tortilla quarters, so slip them in gently, and, about thirty seconds or so later, they’ll be ready to turn, using a long set of tongs. By the time you’ve turned them all, those you turned first will be ready to remove from the pan to a double sheet of paper towels. If you intend to salt the chips, then do so immediately while the chips are still hot; that way the salt will permanently adhere to the chips instead of just rolling off onto the paper towels.
Try Kosher salt; the flakes seem to stick better than salt grains. Put some more chips into the pan, put the previously salted portion of chips into a larger container (try a wide basket lined with more paper towels), replace the original paper towels on which you drained the first set of chips. By this time, the new chips in the pan will be ready to turn and you’re off and running once again. You’ll soon get an assembly-line rhythm going, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll finish the job. When you’ve completed making and salting the chips, let them cool fully and then put them into Zip-Lock bags. The bagged chips will last about a month stored in a cupboard or pantry shelf. The downside of all this? It’s really hard to resist eating them.
An additional note or two: just how dark you want your chips is, obviously, up to you. I like mine on the darker side, but I make sure I make some lighter ones for guests who might prefer them of a more orthodox hue. Adjust the heat and frying times to your own tastes as you go.
Oh, and if you don’t have one of those fancy frying temperature thermometers, here’s an interesting ploy: stick anything that is plain unpainted wood, e.g. the end of a wooden cooking spoon or a wooden barbecue skewer, and, if the oil bubbles up immediately around the wood, the oil has reached 350°. Sounds weird, I know, but it works.