Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Corn chips and beginner's luck

A couple weeks ago, looking through this cookbook, I found a recipe for cornmeal tortillas. In short, stir one cup cornmeal into one cup boiling water, add one teaspoon salt (optional), and one tablespoon shortening, then "Shape into extremely thin, flat cakes and bake on hot, ungreased griddle."

This seemed doable, so I made a half batch. Since I was using a nonstick griddle I only used medium-high heat, and since I wasn't skilled enough to make full-sized tortillas I made tortilla chips, shamelessly making them about the same size and shape as Fritos. (Hey, it's a good size.) I didn't make them extremely thin either. (Thinness must also take practice.) But, when everything was said and done, I had the best corn chips I could remember ever eating, and the whole process had been easy, even fun. I dreamed of having people over for Let's Make Corn Chips parties. Hey, even the kids could do it. Such a deal, and it's the sort of recipe a person could memorize, too. Can't beat that.

Fast forward to yesterday. My husband brought home bean dip and so I decided to make homemade chips instead of using the store-bought kind. This time I made a whole batch. Correction, I put all the ingredients for a full batch together, and wound up with not one usable chip. Not one. I couldn't get the dough to work right. When I did get something resembling a chip to the frying pan (I'd decided to use a different pan, one that could stand high heat better), it scorched instead of cooked, so I was left with odd bits of corn goo burned in spots but raw in the middle. I tried adjusting the temperature down. Didn't help. I tried letting the dough cool, to see if that helped. No go. I even tried adding more cornmeal to the dough, to see if that would help. Definitely, it didn't. I tried adding more shortening. Forgetaboutit. After a while, I admitted defeat, while I still had a fry pan left. My husband, generous soul that he is, offered to scour the frying pan for me to get rid of the scorch marks and molecularly-bound corn residue. I shouldn't have let him do it, probably, but I did. (No, ladies. You can't have him. He's mine.)

If I hadn't had that success right out of the starting gate, I'd quit now, at least on this recipe. And, no, I don't know what I did differently, not really. Somehow I got the consistency right on the first batch, and horribly wrong on the second. I guess I'll have to give it another go or two or three, and see if I can't get the hang of it.

Good luck if you try it. That first batch really was fantastic.

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