Monday, September 23, 2013


Making my own tortilla chips is exactly the kind of fussy kitchen experiment I didn’t think I had time for anymore. Now that I’m back in an office for 40 hours a week (no more cozy telecommuting days while bread dough rose on the counter or beans simmered on the stove) and working a faster-paced job that leaves me drained by the time evening rolls around, I’m trying to get back to basics with quicker, less ambitious weekday meals that make plenty of leftovers and can hit the table before 8 p.m. But when you find yourself with a giant stack of tortillas getting stale in the fridge, you have to do something—and it turns out that, after immersion-blender mayonnaise, this is about the easiest DIY I’ve ever tried.

The last time we stopped by the Mexican market to get fresh corn tortillas for fish tacos, they were out of our usual 24-count bags. All that remained were the massive “family size” packages, easily eight inches tall. They still only cost a couple of bucks, so we rolled with it. The leftover tortillas get too dry for making tacos after a couple of days, but they remain perfectly good for tortilla soup, tostadas, and quesadillas. After a couple of weeks, however, despite our best efforts, we barely seemed to have made a dent in the pile, so I consulted the Internet and found this nifty procedure at The Kitchn for making baked tortilla chips.

And really, it couldn’t be any simpler. Coat baking sheets and tortillas with oil, sprinkle with salt, bake until crisp. You can use cooking spray if you want to make it even easier; I usually do that on the baking sheets, but I don’t think it gives even enough coverage on the tortillas themselves, so I prefer to use my silicon pastry brush. It takes surprisingly little oil, so you might even consider this downright healthy—if you can actually manage not to gobble up every warm, salty, crispy morsel right out of the oven. The first time I made these I was so impressed that they actually turned out like real tortilla chips that A and I stood over the baking sheets and happily snacked away…until I realized I’d eaten the equivalent of about six tortillas in one sitting. Be forewarned, the texture is a bit different than storebought/fried chips, less shatteringly crispy and with a little bit of chew, especially when they’re still warm. You can dry them out by leaving them in the oven with the heat off after baking, but I’ve found that can almost make them too crunchy for me, at least with the tortillas I've been using. Because they’re a bit sturdier, though, it makes them great for nachos, dipping, and so forth. (Next time I post I’ll share with you a recipe I used them in that knocked my socks right off.) And the flavor is excellent.

You can do this in any quantity you like. I’ve found that 10 to 12 corn tortillas yields the right number of chips to cover two of my large baking sheets in a single layer (and two sheets is all that fits into my oven at one time). Even at that rate, it took us six batches or (over the course of several weeks) so to get through all our leftover tortillas. Luckily, this recipe works just fine with older tortillas—the chips maybe get a bit denser in texture, but the flavor is unaffected. Of course, now that we’ve finally finished off the bag, I find myself craving them again, so there’s probably a trip to the Mexican market in my near future. I can see that this is going to become a vicious—but delicious—circle.

Good-quality corn tortillas
Neutral vegetable oil, like grapeseed or canola
Coarse salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour a tablespoon or so of oil into a bowl. Brush a thin coating onto one or two baking sheets and set aside.

2. Place one tortilla on a cutting board and brush the top with a light layer of oil. (You don’t need a lot of oil, but make sure it’s spread evenly across the entire surface, including the edges.) Place another tortilla on top of the oiled one and brush its top with oil. Continue until all your tortillas are oiled and stacked in one pile.

3. Cut your tortilla stack in half. Cut one of the halves in half and cut each of those halves in half again, forming wedges. Repeat with other side, so you have eight stacks of tortilla wedges.

4. Arrange the tortilla wedges in a single layer on the baking sheets (don’t overlap them or they won’t get crisp), un-oiled sides facing down so that they have contact with the oil on the tray. Sprinkle a pinch or two of coarse salt evenly over the tops.

5. Place the trays in the oven and bake for 8 to 12 minutes. Check your chips at 8 minutes and rotate your pans. The chips are done when the edges are crisp and dry and slightly lifted from the tray. They should be a few shades darker, though not completely browned. The chips will still be slightly flexible in the middle, but they will crisp further as they cool. If you want crispier chips, turn the oven off and let them sit in there until they dry out a bit more, from 10 to 60 minutes.

6. Remove trays from the oven and let cool slightly.

Yield: Whatever quantity you like.
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: These are best when fresh, but can be stored (after cooling) in an airtight container for several days.

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