Ho-Made Tortilla Chips

tortilla-chips-aYears ago when we were exchanging Christmas gifts, I gave my mother a gift inside of a hand-decorated gift bag.  I had painted on it “Ho Ho Ho.”  I was in a joking mood and told her “Hey, I painted your name on that bag,” which she thought was hilarious.  After that, we always had a good laugh about the name “Ho.” Sooner or later we started referring to food we made from scratch as “ho-made.”  So, with that, I’d like to share my recipe for ho-made tortilla chips.

Why make them from scratch?  They are about a million times better than they are out of a bag, trust me.  If you’ve ever been to Mexico and had freshly-made chips you know what I’m talking about.  They are also different from most local restaurant chips in that they are thicker and more substantial in terms of mouth feel.


The ingredient list is super super short, but very important:

  • Fresh corn tortillas
  • Canola oil (you can also use all-purpose vegetable oil)
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • A roll of paper towels (you are not going to actually eat these, but you are going to need a lot of them!)

The trick is going to be finding those tortillas and you must go to a real Mexican or Latin mercado or possibly a taqueria to find them.  Typically you want to go where real latinos and latinas actually shop.  (If the people working there speak little or no english, you’ve probably hit pay dirt).  If the tortillas are truly fresh they will be sold warm and wrapped in paper.  My market in town sells them by the pound for $1.29.

If you simply don’t have a source for fresh tortillas then packaged corn tortillas from the grocery store will do, but trust me on this:  I’ve made them both ways and the freshly-made tortillas from the mercado make the very best chips!

I suppose if you have tons of time and patience you could make your own tortillas, but I honestly have never attempted that and don’t plan on it.  Frying chips in and of itself takes a bit of time and energy, I think if I had to make the tortillas first I’d be too tired to make the chips!

Salt…I’m going to do an entire blog post about why you need to invest in decent salt.  If table salt is all you have then use it, but, you seriously need to buy a box of Kosher salt the next time you’re at the store!

Prep Work

In a large skillet–the biggest skillet you can lay your hands on is best–pour a half inch of canola oil.   Put it over medium heat on the stove and let it heat up.

Meanwhile, prepare your chip frying station by clearing off the counter adjacent to the stove and putting out 3 to 5 layers of paper towels.  This is where you will spread out the finished chips.

Take your tortillas and cut them into wedges.  Just take a big sharp knife and cut the whole stack.  Then get two long-handled utensils for dipping finished chips out of the grease.  I use a slotted spoon plus a large spatula, as I can grab more chips using both of them than I can with just one.  Two long-handled spoons will do, too.

Testing Your Grease

This is a picture of an actual batch in progress. Why I am drinking diet coke instead of beer is a mystery to me.

And now, you must test your grease.  Residential stove tops do not maintain consistent temperatures so every time you drop a new batch in the grease, you’re unofficially testing the grease and its temperature!  But, you’ve got to start somewhere so start with just ONE tortilla wedge.  Drop it in.

  • If it sinks to the bottom or just sits there with no sizzle, your grease is not hot enough.
  • If it starts sizzling and browning really quickly, your grease is too hot.  Just watch as this test chip gets overdone and scorched in under a minute!
  • If the tortilla sinks and then floats back to the top and starts sizzling at a moderate pace, your grease is probably just about right.  Let it finish cooking for about 60 seconds, and take it out to see.  Ideally you want to take it out when it is floating and has all but stopped sizzling.

If your test chip is a little soggy in the middle you probably should plan on leaving them in another 15 to 30 seconds.  If it’s soggy all over, your grease still wasn’t hot enough.  If it got too brown, your grease was too hot.

If your grease is too hot remove the pan from the stove for 3 or 4 minutes.  Do NOT try to cool it down by just reducing the temperature of the stove eye.  You are, after all, dealing with something that’s a serious fire hazard here and if your grease is too hot getting it cooled off is an urgent matter.

I know this sounds daunting but I really don’t know the magic temperature to use.  I’d say it’s around 350 degrees, though.  (I also don’t have a thermometer, which is something maybe I should invest in.)  I’m just telling you how I do it.  And, with practice (or the purchase of a thermometer) you will become very skilled at this in no time!

You very likely will ruin several pans of chips before this process is over, but I promise you that the skill of knowing when the grease is just right will come to you!  Dogs love burned and soggy chips and will be thrilled to receive your rejects from the process.

The Ongoing Process

Once you are comfortable that the grease is hot, throw a bunch of tortilla wedges in the pan each time, fry them, stirring and flipping occasionally with your long-handled utensils.  You will feel them firming and crisping up in the pan, and, you’ll get a feel for when they should be removed from the grease.

Spread out the finished chips on the paper towels.  When you complete a layer of chips, sprinkle with the salt, add another 3 to 5 layers of paper towels and keep on piling the finished chips up.  Depending on how many tortillas you started with, you may end up with 3 or 4 layers before it’s over with.

Have some homemade salsa ready to eat as soon as these little suckers start to cool off.

Quantities and Storage

I will tell you that standing in the kitchen and frying these things can take a while unless you use TWO pans.  That’s a lot of canola oil but it does cut your frying time in half.  As I mentioned above, use the largest skillet you can possibly get your hands on.  I prefer a 12″ pan but I only own one of those so my second pan is usually a 10″.

I use clean plastic bags from the grocery store for my finished chips, unless I’m making a really large batch.  I once made 1,600 chips (200 tortillas, cut into 8 wedges each) which took me an entire day to make.  In that case I used a clean white kitchen garbage bag with a drawstring closure.   Every chip was eaten at that party, by the way.  When I put out my back-up supply of store-bought chips in a bag?  People stopped eating chips.  I promise you, people LOVE LOVE LOVE ho-made chips!

Also, the beauty of these chips is that they keep well for a couple of weeks.  If they do get a bit stale, just crisp them back up on a cookie sheet in a 250 degree oven for a few minutes.  If you’re going to make this big of a production in your kitchen, you might as well make a LOT of them.  I typically buy 3 or 4 pounds of fresh tortillas and cook them all in one batch.  You will probably want to start small for your first batch but once you get the hang of this I think you’ll find there’s something very zen about drinking a cold beer, listening to some good music and frying chips for a couple of hours.

One last word of advice, which is also a safety tip.  Do not try to multi-task while you are frying chips!  If you get distracted you could literally burn your house down with a grease fire.  You really have to pay attention to each and every pan of chips to ensure that they turn out crispy and not overdone or underdone.  If you leave the room for anything other than a super quick bathroom break, turn your stove eye(s) off.  And if you have little rugrats (aka children) make sure they are kept safely away from the hot grease!

¡Buen apetito!


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