MORE REFRESHING THAN THE MORE COMMONLY PRACTICED CRISPY FRIED HERBS,
BUT FAR MORE ADDICTIVE…
MY relationship with dining-out for western cuisines in Beijing has been for the past 5 years, at best, a struggle of love and hate. The incentive for attempting such silly missions is simple. If you were living in Beijing, most of the times your best shot at some happiness at least is to make yourself feel like, you weren’t. And sometimes, you know, the right restaurants can do that.
But unfortunately, for far too many times, I’ve sat on a taxi-ride home fed with the fury of underwhelming meals, overcharged bills, and all together more often than not, a complementary cocktail of clueless and laughable services. In the end, I guess one could argue that all along, the true idiot had always been, perhaps, me. Because I was the one who’s been looking for cow’s milk in a rat’s asshole, trying to match the standard of what’s available here with that of New York.
I was the real joke.
So then, I stopped. Without expectations or willingness, I stopped gambling on western cuisines here in general. Well, “in general” I said. Despite my best effort to survive within a vacuum, apparently there are still occasional and advisable social interactions that occur, and last week one such as that, landed me in a restaurant serving, alarmingly, “mixed international” cuisines (aka, a fucking bit of everything), which proved again that the western food-scene in Beijing remained largely… unpredictable. Except this time, in a good way.
Just a quick briefing on the things we ordered should tell you why I had so little faith in their deliverance: Italian tomato and arugula pizza, French mini beef wellington, Indian spiced chicken biryani, Thai-style spiced chicken biryani… and at last, potato chips and herbs salad.
See? Practically an open-face mistake. But no! Surprisingly, in general, everything were all pretty tasty (that or I have been completely broken…). Most surprisingly of all, the dish I desperately ordered because they didn’t serve French fries, the potato chips and herbs salad, changed my mind.
Basic common sense would tell you to keep potato chips at an arm’s length from anything that’s remotely wet or obnoxiously healthy, let alone something that embodies both – a salad! But who would’ve thought? It worked!
The crunchy saltiness went peas-in-a-pod with the tangy sharpness of the lightly dressed cilantro, more refreshing than the more commonly practiced crispy fried herbs, but far more addictive with the play of conflicting textures and flavours. This thought was rare from my western dining experience in Beijing, but right then I thought to myself, you guys should really know about this.
Of course, you could use straight-up store-bought kettle-cooked potato chips for a quick fix, but you’d be surprised, as I was again, at how easy it is to fry your own at home. Incentive? Because the carelessly burnt edges, slightly warm body and pops of flaky sea salt on a batch of homemade potato chips, to the fanciest overcharged gourmet bag you can buy – incomparable. Then when they’re gently folded with this boosted version of herbs salad, with fresh meaty cilantros, mints and thai basils, lightly coated in a lime juice, chilis and fish sauce dressing – mind bending.
This started my 2015 resolution – of being less of a judgmental ass. And if you were planning on starting your new year with one like say, eat healthier, then likewise for you, a makeover on potato chips wouldn’t be the worst place to start is what I’m saying.
- 1 handful fresh mint
- 1 handful fresh cilantro
- 1 handful fresh Thai basil
- 1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 tsp lime juice
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 1 small red chili, finely diced
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp light brown sugar
- 1 Yukon Gold potato
- Canola oil for frying
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
- Lime wedges to serve
- Wash and dry the herbs with a clean towel, then set aside in a bowl. Combine vegetable oil, lime juice, fish sauce, diced red chili, ground black pepper and light brown sugar in a jar. Shake well then set aside.
- Wash and peel the potato. Set the slicer on 1.5mm thickness over a large bowl of water, then slice the potato so it drops right into the water. Gently rub each slices to get rid of excess starch, then lay flat between 2 clean towels and dab to dry.
- Add enough vegetable oil into a deep cast-iron skillet or frying-pot, until it reaches 1 1/2" deep. Set over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 320F/160C with a thermometer (or until it bubbles up steadily around an inserted wooden chopstick), then keep the temperature there during cooking. Scatter the sliced potatoes into the pot without crowding, flipping/turning them frequently until golden browned on both sides, approx 3~4 min. Pick out the potato chips that are ready as you go, drain well then set aside over a sheet of paper-towel. Repeat with the rest of the potato chips.
- Season the chips with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Shake the dressing again then mix evenly with the fresh herbs (use only enough dressing to coat). Arrange the potato chips and herb salad in layers, then serve immediately with lime wedges.
Obviously you can use store-bought kettle-cooked potato chips if you don't want to fry your own.
Most homemade potato chips recipes suggest heating the oil to 400F/200C, but I find that it burns the edges way too fast before the center gets crispy. A lower temperature around 320F/160C cooks the potato chips much more evenly.