~ Deep-Fried & Crispy Corn Tortilla Chips (Totopos) ~
Oddly, I learned to cook Tex-Mex food in authentic fashion right here in Central, Pennsylvania. The year was 1974 and I was a new bride. The day after our wedding, my husband and I moved into a brand new, garden-apartment complex in State College. It was so new that we were the first residents, except for the manager and his wife, who lived directly above us: Tom and Toni. We four became immediate friends -- not because were the only inhabitants, because we four really enjoyed each other. Tom was an all-around, hat-and-boot-wearing Texas cowboy. Toni was a beautiful Mexican-American woman, born and raised in San Antonio, TX. They had moved to State College (where Tom's mom and dad had retired), to manage the apartment complex until they could afford to move back to San Antonio and open their own bar/restaurant.
In the three years that Toni and I were neighbors, I learned to cook Tex-Mex food from scratch. We made our own tortillas and taco shells from masa harina, our chili and burritos using cooked, shredded meat or poultry fillings, and, our salsa from fresh tomatoes, chile peppers and cilantro we grew in pots on our patios. We made refritos (refried beans) by cooking, mashing and frying the pinto beans. We marinated flank and skirt steaks in tequila and drank our margaritas on-the-rocks (those stories remain confidential). The list goes on, but I'm sure you get my point.
Freshly made-from-scratch tortillas have a short shelf life, becoming "tough" after just a few hours. One of the things Toni and I did with leftover corn tortillas was deep-fry them (in lard) to make our own totopos (tortilla chips). For those of you who love to eat and cook your own Tex-Mex food, I'm going to suggest this: the next time you make a pot of your favorite chili or a bowl of chile con queso, take 20 extra minutes and deep-fry some tortilla chips (in corn oil).
Because Joe and I always fry our own chips, I've come to take these addictive snacks for granted. Whenever I serve them to friends, their excitement catches me off-guard, as, I can't believe everyone doesn't make them at home -- I can't believe restaurants, with deep fryers bubbling away all day, don't do it either. I can understand why many home cooks are hesitant to deep-fry in a pot with a candy thermometer (it's an awkward, messy, hassle), but, the purchase a deep-fryer, which makes the process completely safe, extremely clean and very easy, is, in my opinion, one of the best $50-$100 investments a serious home cook can make. Tortilla chips deep-fried at home are head-over-heals better than any that come out of any $4-$6 bag of any generic to gourmet brand.
30 fresh, 6" round, yellow or white corn tortillas
freshly ground sea salt
Using a large chef's knife, cut the entire stack of tortillas into six parts or triangles. This package of 30 corn tortillas weighs 1 pound, 12 ounces and will make 180 totopos (15 dozen) in 20 minutes.
~ Step. 2. Heat oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375 degrees. I like to use corn oil when frying corn tortilla chips (to me that just makes sense). When the deep fryer is preheated:
Fry 1 stack (one sixth) of the corn tortilla triangles, exactly 3 minutes. The chips will be very, very lightly browned and puffed up in spots.
Immediately remove from the deep-fryer and:
~ Step 3. Transfer to a large baking pan that has been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the totopos into a single layer. Immediately, while they still look wet with oil, salt the tops of them (generously).
When the deep-fryer returns to temperature, fry the second batch and continue this process until all totopos are fried.
Store, uncovered in a basket, for 2-3 days -- if they last that long:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer; 3-minute egg timer (optional but helpful); paper towels; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; spatula
Cook's Note: Completely cooled tortilla chips can be stored in an air-tight container for up to one week. They also stay crispy, if left uncovered, for 2-3 days. I put mine in a bowl on my counter for passers-by to munch on at will!
Extra Cook's Note: When cut into strips, instead of triangles, they are used as a crunchy garnish for Mexican soups. Simply cut the stack of torillas into quarters, then slice each stack of quarters into strips, 1/4"-1/2" wide, and deep-fry!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)