I love salty, savory snacks so much that I devoted a whole chapter in my latest cookbook, Better from Scratch, to salty nibbles, including everyone’s favorite, potato chips. But why, you may be wondering, would you want to make your own chips when you can just buy them? Here’s why: Homemade chips are light and crisp, spanking fresh, and just plain better. Because they haven’t been lingering on a shelf, they taste more like potato. They’re not as greasy as store-bought, and you can control the amount of salt. (Turns out good chips need much less salt because they taste great on their own.) You can also easily season them to make fresher versions of bagged favorites like sour cream and onion or barbecue. Add a homemade dip or two, and you’re in potato chip heaven.
See a slideshow of more homemade chip and dip combos.
Pick the right potato, slice, and soak
Making potato chips is easy, but there are some things to keep in mind to make sure they’re at their crispy best.
Start with russets. I prefer very thin potato chips that fry without getting too dark, so I use russet baking potatoes. They contain less moisture than other varieties, such as Yukon Golds and red potatoes, so they crisp up more quickly as their moisture cooks off in the hot oil. Russets are also lower in sugar, so they fry up lighter in color. Smaller potatoes—6 to 8 ounces each—are easier to slice, and leaving the skins on contributes flavor and gives the chips a nice rustic look.
Slice super thin. One of the most important steps on the road to potato chip perfection is slicing the potatoes both thinly and evenly. If the potato slices are of varying thicknesses, you’ll wind up with a mix of burnt and still-soggy chips. I use an inexpensive plastic mandoline slicer that has an adjustable slicing blade and aim for 1/16 inch thick. You can use a sharp chef ’s knife to dispatch your spuds, but unless you’re a knife ace, the results won’t be as consistent. Also, slicing the potatoes will take much longer.
Rinse and repeat. When potatoes are fried, some of their starches convert to sugars, which caramelize and brown. A soak in water to remove some of the starch helps keep the potatoes from becoming too brown before they become fully crisp. I do this twice to get rid of as much starch as possible.
Dry well for safety’s sake. After the rinse, it’s important to dry the slices well so that there’s less spattering during frying. I like to use a salad spinner to get the chips as dry as can be, which helps them cook more evenly, too. If you don’t have a salad spinner, blot them dry repeatedly with paper towels.
Fry, season, and wait (Sorry!)
After all the potato prep, frying is actually the quick part of making potato chips.
Get the oil good and hot. Heating the oil to 350°F to 360°F is key for crisp, not greasy, chips, so use a deep-fry thermometer and let the oil come back up to temperature between batches. A heavy-duty 4-quart saucepan is ideal for frying because it retains heat well and is large enough to fry a few handfuls of potato chips (about 20 slices) at once without overcrowding.
Give the chips a post-fry rest. While it’s important to season chips straight out of the oil so that the seasoning clings to the damp chip, it’s best to use all of your willpower to not eat them until at least 30 minutes after frying. As they sit, they’ll become crisper and more delicious. If you’re like me, you’ll need to get out of the kitchen to let this happen. So scoot; your chips will be better for it.
Storing leftovers (yeah, right)
In the unlikely event you wind up with leftover chips, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. How long will they last? Beats me; I’ve never had a batch last long enough to store. But the folks at Fine Cooking tested this notion and say the chips will last a week. (I’m impressed by their willpower.) The dips will also last a week, covered and refrigerated.