Olivia Dish

Barbecue Spice Girl

In Homemade, Taste Tests on July 9, 2010 at 9:32 pm
homemade barbecue chips

The orange residue of shame

I’m sure I should prefer the fruit. Or even the circa 1980s pasta salad. But the shameful, orange-tinged truth is this: I’d rather have a side of barbecue potato chips.

I really can’t tell you why, on occasion, I lust for BPCs. After the first bite or two, they always leave me feeling dirty. And I’m not just talking about the residue (which, by the way, is as hard to clean up as fingerprint powder but that’s another story).  Even all-natural BPCs take on an aura of chemical fakeness about ten chips into your basic bag.

cape cod chips bag

More evidence: an empty bag

So I wondered, as I always do—what’s the attraction?  Standing in the checkout line at Fresh Market, I flipped over the perfectly respectable bag of kettle fried barbecue chips and looked at the ingredients.

Well what do you know? Paprika is a major ingredient. And as it happened, I had just put a can of smoked sweet paprika in my basket. Maybe a batch of homemade barbecue potato chips would help me get to the root of the thing.

I’d heard for years about the wonders of smoked paprika but hadn’t managed to bring any home.  Regular old paprika, yeah I had that. I added it to various things, mostly to the dredging flour for my fried chicken, in an attempt to uncover the secret of the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices.

Smoked paprika in the house (bottom right)

But smoked paprika is something else, made from deep red peppers dried over an oak fire, with an aroma that’s often called intoxicating.  The word “paprika” comes from the Hungarian word for pepper, and Hungary has always been a major source of the spice. My paprika was from Spain, where the spice was first produced. Paprika, by weight, contains more vitamin C than orange juice;  vitamin C was first identified and extracted, in fact, from the paprika pepper by a Hungarian scientist.

Already, as soon as I pried open the can, I liked the smoked far better than the old stuff.  Of course, the new stuff had the advantage of being smoky; I tend to go for smoked foods, aside from a few odd-tasting cheeses .

I sliced a potato and fried the chips.  Then I added a mix of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper (just a hint) and smoked paprika.

potatoes for chips

Potatoes sliced for the not-so-grand experiment

I wish I could tell you the best ratio of salt to paprika, but I never did get it to my satisfaction. If you care to try this at home, you should probably go with more salt than you think.  The smoked paprika is strong, almost too harsh on some of the chips. It was tough to get an even coating. As I think about it now, it might be better to salt first, then give your still-hot chips a light dusting by putting the paprika in a fine mesh strainer.

Yes, it’s a little crowded in there.

The chips delivered plenty of tell-tale orange stuff, but the taste, while absolutely fine, didn’t have that crazy lust-making effect that store-bought chips assert over me.

The smoked paprika, though, is a definite boost to the spice cabinet. I used it to dress up some homemade hummus, and it really elevated something tasty to a new level of good.  I can’t wait to see what it does to my 11 herbs and spices blend for fried chicken.  But every once in a while, I’ll still be sneaking a bag of barbecue potato chips from the store.  What do they put in those things? Perhaps I’ll never know. And maybe that’s as it should be.

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