Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Homemade Taco Chips and Grocery Extortion

On February 26, I purchased a can of Chock Full O’ Nuts Coffee at my local grocery store for $4.99. On April 15, there was a sale sticker over the new regular price of $5.39 advertising my coffee for sale for $5.79, marked down from the even newer regular price of $5.99. Did you follow me on that? In 48 days the price of my coffee has increased at best 8%, and at worst 20%. This is not the first item I have seen a 20% increase on; I'd hate to be right in thinking a 20% increase in food costs across the board is coming. Which means that my grocery budget should also increase 20% right? As well as my salary to cover the added expense of eating.

Wrongo bongo. But you saw that coming, didn't you?

For whatever reason our grocers are raising their prices on all things, fresh or preserved (including my coffee, which is surely from the same shipment), my budget must still handle all the food we need to buy for the week. Which is why it is more important than ever to have the confidence to make some foods that you would typically only buy. Like taco chips.


First, buy your corn tortillas in the biggest, cheapest bag you can find. Divide them up into freezer bags and save for the future. Cut up the tortillas into sixths. (Printable recipe.)

Then, set up four stations:

Station 1: Pre-Fry. Have tongs or a metal spatula or a frying basket at the ready.

Station 2: Fry Station. A good heavy pot or dutch oven. I filled mine a third of the way full with canola oil. More full makes for a faster fry, but then you have a whole mess of oil to deal with and if you take your pre-chips out of the freezer they will have some condensation on them that can cause the oil to bubble up dangerously.

Station 3: Draining and Seasoning. Cookie sheet, paper towels or newspaper, drying rack upside-down on top. Kosher salt is always great but regular table salt sticks better for traditional taco chips. A mix of cinnamon and sugar makes for sopapillas (delicious snack or dessert or sustenance while frying). Chili powder and salt is great, as is smoked paprika. Pretty much anything you would try on popcorn will be fabulous here.

Station 4: Cooling and Overflow. This is where you put the chips that are cool enough to handle (and somehow haven't yet made it into your mouth).

Another view of the stations:

This candy thermometer came from the grocery store in a moment of Christmas fudge desperation. It worked fine for candy and deep frying until shortly after this batch of chips when we fried some cream cheese wontons and boiled the thermometer over. Spend the money on good kitchen equipment that you don't have to replace.

Heat the oil to between 350 and 375 degrees. It will take a few batches to get your groove on but no matter; there isn't much finer than a hot taco chip fresh out of the oil. (Tip: Eat your mistakes.) I could fit between 8 and 14 into my pot but they cooked faster when there were fewer to bring the oil temperature down. Deal them in one by one as if you are playing cards with an opponent that could melt the skin off your fingers. This will keep them from sticking and leave you wondering just which supervillian you'd most like to play poker with.

About a minute in, they will start to curve downward and color ever so slightly on the outsides. Turn each chip over, then cook for another minute. Be ready to pull them out quickly and salt even quicker. If your temperature is right, the corn won't absorb much oil so you won't have much time to season.

Congratulations! You've just made taco chips. And in not too much time either, two minutes a batch. These will keep just like store-bought.

Now, for the money analysis:

My typical bag of chips costs $2 (yes, the cheap kind). The manufacturer approximates 111 chips per bag.

It will take 18.5 tortillas to make 111 chips, so let's call it 19 because I won't be freezing half a tortilla.

The package of corn tortillas I purchased was $4.09 for 80 tortillas. Divided into sets of 19, that leaves one to fry up immediately and three more batches plus a few a-waiting in the freezer. (Of course, you can always use a few for tacos and a few for taco chips and leave the rest in the fridge.) This comes to $.05115 per tortilla.

So, 19 tortillas to make a store-bought bag's worth of taco chips at $.05115 per tortilla comes to $.97.

If you want to be antagonistic about this, you can send me a nasty email about how I'm only saving a dollar and why sit there for 28 minutes (111 chips/8 per batch=13.875 batches x 2 minutes a batch) when you can spend one more dollar and be done with it. However, I submit to you the following:

1) Homemade offers a savings of 50% over store-bought.

2) Homemade are absolutely delicious and no matter what custom seasonings you choose to use, will bring great joy to yourself and your family.

3) Sometimes you don't have one more dollar. Now you can still have taco chips, even though your grocery budget buys 20% less than it did two months ago.

4) The satisfaction of making something you thought you could only buy is very empowering. In these times, we need to be able to have some control over something.

Even if it's only the humble taco chip.


  1. I've never made my own fried chips before but often bake them. Certainly not as good a these look!

  2. How funny; I've never had great success baking them! You'll have to give me some tips. (Come to think of it, I haven't had good luck with oven fries either.) Thanks for the compliment!


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