After the long bouts of testing that I did for this week's Burger Lab post on french fries, a thought struck me this morning, and was later asked by Serious Eats member rps in the comments section of that post: How would the boil in acidified water affect the outcome of potato chips?
For a quick recap, today's fry post talks about how by first boiling potatoes in acidified water, you strengthen the pectin in the cell walls so that you can fully cook the potato and release its starches without it falling apart on you. A corollary to this is that by first boiling the potatoes, you wash away a lot of the excess sugar and starch from the fries, helping them keep a nice light gold color as the fry.
To figure out how this applies to chips, there was really only one way to do it. So I sliced a potato on my mandoline, and heated up the wok.
For the first batch of chips, I sliced the potatoes into a bowl of cold water, briefly rinsed excess starch off their surface, then deep fried them in 350 degree oil until crisp.
As you can see, they browned considerably. They had the flavor of the "kettle" style chips that you see in the fancy looking packaging. To my palate, these taste slightly bitter and burnt. I much prefer the cleaner flavor of the thinner, blond-colored chips from brands like Lays, Wise or Utts (I.E. the cheap-o ones).
Now, after the jump, here's what happens when you pre-blanch your chips. (Bear in mind that all of these chips were cut from the same potato and to the same thickness as the previous batch. These chips were first boiled in vinegary water before frying in the same oil.)
Isn't that incredible? Such a tiny step can make such a huge difference!
These chips had the opposite problem: They were ultra crisp (crisper than the un-blanched potatoes), but had almost no flavor. This is pure speculation, but my guess is that because they are so thin, basically the only thing that doesn't wash out of them during their boil is the strengthened pectin framework. Without starch, sugar, or any of the other things that give a potato its flavor, you're left with nothing but an empty shell (albeit a very crunchy empty shell).
The ideal chip for me would be something in between these, which can probably be accomplished by simply cutting the boiled chips a bit thicker. Too many tests to do, too few calories to spare.
Back in my restaurant days, I worked at a place that went to great pains to keep their chips from getting any color at all, which essentially meant frying them at low temperature about a half dozen at a time, constantly agitating them. Pain in the butt. I wish I had known this trick back then!
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.