Letting the Chips Fail

As a child raised in an Italian family in lower Westchester county, my experience with Chinese food was nonexistent until I went to college. Under the patient tutelage of friends and the staff of the Joyce Chen Small Eating Place I learned about Mandarin/Szechuan cuisine. I also developed an addition to shrimp chips (“prawn crackers” to my friends across the pond). They were little miracles of transformation, going from this:

to this after a dunk in hot oil:

The cooked product, best eaten while still hot, was more about the texture than any actual shrimp flavor. It’s not to often that one can enjoy consuming what is best described as “colored hot styrofoam.”

I was reminded of shrimp chips after receiving multiple emails from various readers about the recipe for “glass potato chips” that appeared earlier this summer. The technique looked simple enough, so I gave it a try.

I roasted some Yukon Gold potatoes and steeped them in near-boiling water to make potato stock.

I mixed in the potato starch to make a gel, which seemed thicker than expected.

I should have been able to pour the gel into  squeeze bottle, but that wasn’t happening. Instead I did my best to spread it evenly on a sheet of parchment.

I put two sheets of potato gel into my dehydrator and let it run overnight. This is when I discovered the second problem.

The parchment had absorbed some of the moisture from the gel, making it contract while drying. I was able to peel the paper away and break up the dried gel into irregular shards.

I tasted one of the fragments, which didn’t seem particularly potato-y. I gave the pieces a dunk in my deep fryer, drained them, and hit them with some salt while they were still hot.

The finished chips were oily and salty, but still not potato-y. A failure from start to finish. But I realized that the basic technique allowed for variations in stock, flavoring, even color. I decided to try again, starting with a more strongly flavored vegetable stock.

I mixed the potato starch into a pan of hot vegetable broth (Whole Foods 365 brand), cooked until it thickened, and transferred the gel to a piping bag. I substituted quick release foil for the parchment, and sprinkled each flattened bit of gel with fennel-thyme salt.

These chips looked much better (and flatter) coming out of the dehydrator.

Imagine my surprise when I dunked these in hot oil:

They puffed up like shrimp chips. How did that happen? The starch/liquid ratio is identical to the potato version. There’s nothing in the vegetable broth apart from vegetables and water. My best guess is that the gel didn’t spend enough time to become fully dehydrated, and the trapped water that remained puffed the chips when exposed to high heat.

Clear or not, they were tasty, and worth another trial run. But I’m beginning to think that there are easier ways to make interesting chips.

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2 Responses to Letting the Chips Fail

  1. JO'N says:

    So, shrimp chips aren’t too different from papadum, which fill the breadstick niche at many Indian restaurants. If you purchase them raw at an Indian grocery, what you get is a stack of tough, very flat, very thin, 15 cm disks. After a few seconds immersion in hot oil, though, they swell and become the craggy snacks we’re familiar with. I wonder if the difference in texture between papadum and shrimp chips isn’t due to a difference in the underlying starch components. I believe that lentils are the basic ingredient in papadum, although I’ve never seen a recipe.

    • David says:

      I think there are two components to the texture difference: the difference in starch (and therefore the hygroscopic properties of the dehydrated chips), and the thickness. In my experience, dried papadum are much thinner than dried shrimp chips.

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