Idaho® Potato Chip History

Q:

Here’s a little history to go along with some suggestions for adding homemade chips to your restaurant operations.

A:

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

Ingredients:

To Prepare:

  1. Slice the potatoes paper thin.
  2. 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.
  3. Drain and dry the potatoes.
  4. 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: