Potato chips get hot

From spicy new flavourings to premium ingredients, potato chips are cashing in on a whole new image these days.

A five-spice sweet potato

A five-spice sweet potato

From spicy new flavourings to premium ingredients, potato chips are cashing in on a whole new image these days.

“What’s been happening lately is there are more companies pushing interesting recipes,” says Jeremy Selwyn, who follows the snack food industry for his website Taquitos.net.

Chips are packing heat — jalapeno and three-alarm chili flavours are a trend — and taking on a sophisticated air; plain Jane salt and vinegar has been reborn as balsamic vinegar and sea salt.

Barbecue is as popular as ever, but it’s no longer just barbecue. Now it’s hickory barbecue, honey barbecue, and so on.

“There’s a lot of new things going on,” says Steve Sklar, executive vice-president of marketing for Inventure Foods, the team behind a number of snack chip brands, including Boulder Canyon, T.G.I. Friday’s and Burger King.

Yes, there are Burger King potato chips, including a Ketchup & Fries flavour.

Boulder Canyon aims for the artisan touch with natural ingredients and interesting flavours such as hummus and red wine.

“We find when you’re snacking, people want to have a distinctive flavour,” notes Sklar. “We have jalapeno cheddar, which has got good balance, but it clearly is spicy.”

Meanwhile, there’s been an effort to simplify ingredients and make chips, if not a health food at least one that’s less bad for you.

As such, many manufacturers have switched to better-quality oils and are working on reducing sodium.

At Frito-Lay, the company several years ago began promoting the fact that its plain potato chips contain just three ingredients — potatoes, oil and salt.

“There was an opportunity to tell the story about what goes into a potato chip.

“It’s not this heavily processed unnatural thing that we’re creating. We actually use potatoes,” says Chris Kuechenmeister, a spokesman for Frito-Lay.

According to potato chip lore, the snack was created in 1853 when a picky customer annoyed a chef in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., by complaining that his french fries were too thick, says Selwyn.

The chef decided to cut the potatoes REALLY thin and “what he ended up doing was inventing potato chips because the customer really liked them.”

Selwyn has tried a lot of chips, from mainstream to off-the-wall — Cajun squirrel, anyone? Anyone?

While the main chip action is in flavours with shelf appeal — like better barbecue — he expects the quest for quirkier combos will continue.

“Whatever crazy flavour you can think of,” he says, “someone will try to make a chip out of it someday.”

Dress-Your-Own Potato Chips

Making your own potato chips takes this much-loved snack food to a whole new level.

It also lets you add the flavours you like. In this recipe, use Yukon gold, russets or even sweet potatoes. We’ve added some suggestions for how to season the chips, but the fun is in experimenting with your own combinations.

Soaking the potato slices briefly in salted water helps release the starches from the potatoes, which ensures they will fry up crisp. Just be sure to pat them dry before frying.

Note that sweet potatoes will take longer to fry than the other varieties, 5 to 7 minutes per batch.

Be sure to prepare your seasoning blends before you fry the potatoes; you want it ready as soon as the chips come out of the oil.

Start to finish: 45 minutes

4 medium potatoes

30 ml (2 tbsp) kosher salt

1 l (4 cups) peanut or canola oil

Using a mandolin, food processor or a very sharp knife, slice potatoes into very thin rounds.

Be sure to slice them as evenly as possible. Rinse potatoes under cool running water.

Place slices in a large bowl, then add enough cool water to cover.

Add salt, stir to dissolve, then let sit for 30 minutes.

When ready to cook the chips, place oil in a large saucepan.

Heat over medium until oil reaches 160 C (325 F).

Drain potatoes and, working in batches, use a towel to pat slices dry. Carefully add a quarter of the slices to the oil and fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness of your slices.

Use a slotted spoon to remove potatoes from oil and set on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with remaining slices.

Sprinkle with one of the following seasoning blends (or your own), then serve.

• TRUFFLE-HERB: Drizzle potato chips with 10 ml (2 tsp) truffle oil, then sprinkle with 2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt mixed with 5 ml (1 tsp) minced fresh thyme and 5 ml (1 tsp) minced fresh rosemary.

• FIVE-SPICE: Mix 2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt, 5 ml (1 tsp) five-spice powder and 15 ml (1 tbsp) powdered sugar.

• CHOCOLATE: Mix 15 ml (1 tbsp) unsweetened cocoa powder and 15 ml (1 tbsp) powdered sugar. Also can add a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne.

• PARMESAN PEPPER: Drizzle potato chips with 15 ml (1 tbsp) melted ghee, then sprinkle with 30 ml (2 tbsp) powdered (canned) Parmesan cheese mixed with 2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground black pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: Recipe from Alison Ladman.

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