Homemade potato chips find their way to our kitchen only very rarely, but what a heavenly indulgence when they do appear. You see, I’m a potato chip addict. I may blend a killer kombucha, spend my afternoons brewing water kefir and culturing raw milk yogurt, but it’s the humble potato chip: salty, crunchy and wonderfully greasy that will always have my heart.
I take after my mother that way. That woman never met a potato chip she didn’t like, and in the summer on the tiny island where I grew up we’d file into a rusted out banana-yellow sleeper van and ride from the air base to the beach at the other side of the island. And while I’d muster all the grade-school patience I could, that drive seemed an eternity though the island, tip-to-tip, was only seventy miles long. Those were the long days of summer, hazy and hot and wet. We’d spend hours in the water only to come to shore and eat peanut butter sandwiches gritty with coral sand. At night time, we’d stay up late playing Shanghai Rummy eating potato chips slathered in French onion dip. For me, the humble potato chip evokes these memories so strongly that in one bite, I can remember the darkened bungalos at the beach, the briney smell of the sea and the rhythmic washing of the waves as they crashed upon the shore just outside our room.
We’ve given up potato chips, more or less; they’re loaded with nasty stuff: refined vegetable oils, genetically engineered ingredients, MSG, refined salts. I still can’t help myself, though. I crave them: the crunch, the salt, the greasy fingertips. It’s not so much that the potato chip is an unhealthy food, but, rather, what we’ve done with it. A potato, on its own, is a beautiful thing – capable of sustaining life in the Andes until it was brought from the new world to the old and found itself welcomed all over Europe, but perhaps in Ireland and Germany the most. The challenge then is the processing. The use of unhealthy, solvent-extracted genetically engineered vegetable oils like soybean and cottonseed oils that are used to make snack foods instead of the traditional fats that have nourished humans for thousands of years like butter, lard from pastured pigs, tallow from grass-fed cattle, coconut and palm kernel oils.
So when I attended the Weston A Price Foundation conference last year and the year before, I found a substitute to satisfy my cravings without sacrificing my adherence to a truly whole traditional diet: lard-fried potato chips. Ah! The joy! And I committed myself to making them at home, too. It’s not a dish you’d make quickly – two pounds of potatoes produces only five ounces of chips, about the same amount that you’d find in a modestly sized bag. Nevermind the time it takes to gently fry each batch of chips, eight to ten at a time, in a cast-iron skillet full of hot fat. This, dear readers, is a recipe for the true potato chip lover. It is not for the faint of heart.
Lard gets a bad rap. It’s an unloved fat, but one that deserves cherishing. When the lipid hypothesis of the mid-twentieth century took hold, lard was on the outs and still remains on the outs despite our new-found (and well-deserved) infatuation with tropical oils like coconut oil. It’s a shame. At the turn of the twentieth century when diabetes rates were low and cardiovascular disease was almost unheard of and before the processed vegetable oil industry skyrocketed, lard and butter were the darlings of the home cook, the primary source of fat in the diet. Indeed, no one had heard of cottonseed oil, canola oil hadn’t yet been invented and folks were thriving in good health on eggs fried in bacon fat, fruit pies with lard-crust and foods fried in grass-fed tallow. The only liquid vegetable consumed in any quantity was olive oil. Lard nourishes, it’s potently rich in vitamin D and an primarily composed of monounsaturated fat – the very fat that makes olive oil and avocados so healthy. So give it up grapeseed and canola oil fans, and learn to use traditional fats. They taste better anyway and you can render lard at home easily.
homemade potato chips
- Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible (no thicker than 1/32-inch) using a mandolin. If you don’t have a mandoline, get one; they’ll cut smoothly, thinly and more uniformly than the best knife and are essential in preparing many dishes, not just homemade potato chips.
- Toss the potatoes into a large mixing bowl with starter culture and water, to cover. Allow the potatoes to culture in the water for one to two days at room temperature.
- After one to three days of fermentation, drain the potatoes and rinse them well. Pat them as dry as possible with a kitchen towel.
- Melt lard in a frying pan over a moderately high flame.
- Fry potato chips, in small batches so that the chips float freely in the lard and turning as necessary, until crispy and cooked through – about two minutes.
- Drain the homemade potato chips on a kitchen towel, wait a minute or two and then return them to the frying pan for another thirty to forty-five seconds per batch. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them again.
- Season with sliced scallions, Spanish paprika and unrefined sea salt.
- Serve these homemade potato chips immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for one to two weeks (if they last that long!)