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Idaho® Potato Chip History
Here’s a little history to go along with some suggestions for adding homemade chips to your restaurant operations.
Although potato chips have existed since the 1840’s, they were sliced a lot thicker than today’s potato chips. The original thin potato chip, known as “Saratoga potatoes” or “Saratoga chips”, is said to have been invented in 1853 by Chef George Crum at Moon’s Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, NY, a town known for its spa waters and resorts. According the story, Chef Crum sliced his potatoes as thin as he could to placate a persnickety customer who kept sending his fries back because they were too thick. The next day, the rest of the chips were fried off and were put in paper cones and passed out free to customers at the bar, where a sign said “Help Yourself”. The rest is history. Today, potato chips are one of the largest-selling snack foods in America.
There’s no secret as to who your competition will be if you offer a freshly made chip with sandwiches or burgers or other entrees; Frito Lay owns nearly a 50% share of the market for packaged snack chips. But one of the up and coming chip makers that can give you insight into some possible flavorings or spices is Kettle Foods. I’d suggest getting on their mailing list just for the exposure to some terrific marketing ideas that involve communication with their customers on new products. Go to: http://www.kettlechipchallenge.com for a good example.
Another interesting source on chips is the book Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip, by Dick Burhans, which tells the story of this crispy, salty treat, from the early sales of locally made chips at corner groceries, county fairs, and cafes, to the mass marketing and corporate consolidation of the modern snack food industry.
For fresh Idaho potato chips you want to use a high solids potato, so waxy varieties such as reds will be a challenge. I’d recommend sticking with a chipping variety or a high solids russet such as the Russet Burbank. This doesn’t mean that other potatoes won’t work, but having high solids and low moisture plays into your favor in consistency. One of the more unusual executions of chips we’ve had lately was the Red Thumb Fingerling variety prepared by chef/owner Randy Zwieban of Province Restaurant in Chicago. Randy made paper thin slices of the potatoes, fried them up quickly, and dusted the finished chips with cinnamon and sugar for an interesting sweet flavored dessert accompaniment.
On a small scale here is a recipe to start with:
Perfect Idaho Potato Chips
- 4 Idaho Russet Burbanks
- 3 quarts of oil (olive, vegetable, peanut or your choice)
- Coarse salt
- Slice the potatoes paper thin.
- Soak potato chips in cold water (one gallon), changing the water often or rinse potatoes under cold running water until the water runs clear. Takes about 10-15 minutes.
- Drain and dry the potatoes.
- Heat oil to 350°F, work in batches to avoid overcrowding or reducing the oil temp with too much product, and fry the slices until golden brown, about one minute per batch. Drain on a metal screen or towel, sprinkle with salt to taste and serve.
And, here are five tips to make your customers keep coming back for more Idaho® potato chips:
- Slice potatoes thin, using a mandolin or a commercial meat slicer. Be sure to use the machine guard as the potato can easily slip when you reach the end and fingers have a tendency to suffer. Several companies make specialty potato slicers, such as the ones used for ribbon cutting. Nemco’s Power Cut Ribbon Fry machine turns a whole potato into a continuous thin sliced curl, popular at state fairs. Just think, for about 25 cents you can slice an entire potato and easily charge $2-3 per portion.
- Soak the slices in cold water to remove excess starch. Dry the slices before frying to reduce splattering and oil absorption. Some people find that an inexpensive salad spinner works great for this. A suggested commercial salad spinner is made by Novon Company, it has a capacity of five gallons: www.novon.com
- Keep the oil temperature at 350°F or higher. Frying at lower temperatures increases oil absorption.
- For crisper chips, avoid overcrowding by frying in small batches. Allow oil to return to 350°F or higher temperature before using again.
- Replace oil completely if it starts to smoke, darken, or form bubbles along the side. This indicates that the oil is breaking down and the resulting chips will be greasy.
- Experiment with chip seasonings, or serve with dips, salsa, or vinegar.
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