I feel like we’ve celebrated this one before, so I looked back at the past 206 days and realized we haven’t. We’ve celebrated the corn chip back on Day 181, but if you recall, the corn chip is different than a tortilla chip. It’s all about Nixtamalization (process by which the corn, or other grain, is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled making it more easy to grind). A Frito is a corn chip. A Tostito is tortilla chip. If you don’t know the difference between a Frito and a Tostito, I’m not sure we can be friends. Or at least I’m never having you make the nachos. Tortilla chips would be the only acceptable chip for that.
Tortilla chips are made from corn tortillas. They are basically the same corn tortillas that are used for tacos, except they re fried or baked until they are crispy. They come from Mexico where they are known as totopos or tostadas and they continue to be a rich part of the Mexican diet and culinary tradition. Their modern day popularity dates back to the 1940’s when food pioneer Rebecca Webb Carranza was trying to think of something to do with the rejected or misshapen tortillas that would come out of the machine at her tortilla factory in Los Angeles. Waste is always the mother of great ideas, so Carranza took the tortilla rejects, cut them up into the now famous triangle shape, fried them up, salted them and then sold them for a dime a bag at her tortilla factory. The rest, they say, is history. Now tortilla chips are a staple at any Mexican restaurant, a top seller in the chip aisle at the grocery store and well, pretty much everywhere.
Tortilla chips are great by themselves, but they really find stardom when they are paired with other food items. Salsa. Guacamole. Queso cheese. In those cases, the tortilla chip actually becomes a device for shoveling the other food into your mouth. It’s needed however. Otherwise how would you eat it? A big spoonful of Queso? That would be delicious, but socially awkward. Plus the saltiness and crunchiness of the tortilla chip brings its own delightfulness to any party. It’s the combination of the two tastes that really make the dip shine. It’s not just the salsa, it’s the chips and salsa. The tortilla chip knows it’s a stud and carries the other food (both literally and figuratively).
The tortilla chip reached pop culture stardom back in 1993 when George Costanza on the television show Seinfeld was at an out of town post-funeral gathering and he essentially sparked the great “Double Dip” debate that still rings out today. I’m not sure why there is a debate about this. Double dipping (taking a bite out of a chip and then dunking that same chip back into the dip for another bite) is wrong. There is nothing that has been in your mouth that should ever go back into a communal plate of food. The only variation of this is when you eat your chip carefully and you can take two dips from the same chip making sure that the tainted part from your first bite never touches the dip again. Risky, but acceptable. Double dip violators should be immediately stopped and called out for their party fouls. It’s a violation against humanity.
I bought some chips at the store today. I picked up a brand called Santitas Tortilla Chips. These are billed as ‘restaurant like’ chips and they have some similarities to the kind you would find in a nice Mexican restaurant. They are crunchy, plenty of corn flavor and nicely salted too. They have a good thickness – not too thick but strong enough to lift up a nice scoop of guacamole. I’m a fan, plus they are only $2 a bag which is usually cheaper than other brands. Come to find out, they are made by Frito-Lay, so they are an offshoot of their more expensive Tostitos brand, but I honestly like their taste better. Now I just needed a way to prepare them so I could truly celebrate the tortilla chip. I of course thought of nachos which are the byproduct of the tortilla popularity. Everyone loves some good nachos, but I like my nachos fully loaded: cheese, beans, tomatoes, garlic, lettuce, sour cream, pulled pork – the works. While that’s tasty, it doesn’t really highlight the chip. The answer, I decided, was to go old school and create the nacho in its most basic form of just chips and cheese. The original. The nachos that we probably all first tried. The movie theater nachos. The 7-11 Nachos. I bought a can of Rico’s Hot & Spicy cheddar sauce and when the time came, I opened it up and heated it up on the stovetop. I didn’t know it at the time, but Rico’s brand was started by the Liberto family and it was Frank Liberto who invented the concession stand nacho (that’s the official name of this kind of nacho) in 1976 when he began selling them at Arlington Stadium in Texas. I was making my own concession nachos tonight and I had selected the one cheese that started it all. When the cheese was hot, I poured it out onto a plate of tortilla chips.
What can I say about these that you wouldn’t have already guessed? They were awesome. Crunchy salty chips with gooey melty cheese. The cheese was actually spicy too which was a nice touch. I like a little heat in there. It was filling however and after a respectable portion each, Lola and I were starting to feel that “I ate too much cheese” feeling. But worth it.
As usual, I still thought I had to do a little more, so earlier in the night I started making a Chicken Tortilla Soup. I wanted to make a dinner that would highlight the tortilla chip and most suggestions I saw involved breading your protein with crushed up chips. That’s when I thought of Chicken Tortilla Soup. What I didn’t realize until later is that this soup highlights the corn tortilla, not the chip. But that’s ok, I could still serve it with some crispy tortilla strips. That would work perfectly fine with this tomato based chicken soup. I found a recipe from the Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond which was nice and easy. Tortilla soup as a rule should be nice and easy. I cooked the chicken. Chopped up my veggies and started adding all to the pot. I added in the broth, tomato paste, beans and more – then let it simmer. It smelled great too. When it was done, after we had recovered from our nacho cheese coma, I scooped it into bowls and topped it with fresh avocado, cilantro, sour cream and of course fresh tortilla strips.
Although I’ve never made it before, chicken tortilla soup is always a nice delight. It’s not very heavy and the combination of all the spicy flavors with the tomato and chicken broth is perfect for someone that loves Mexican or Tex-Mex food. The fresh garnishes also bring a lot to the party. In fact, the soup is a celebration of freshness. This is a good soup that we’ll enjoy over the next few days too. The chips added a good crunchiness to it all, and some saltiness. A great combo and a nice subtle nod to the diversity of a hardy tortilla chip.
What’s my favorite chip? Easy, Officer Jon Baker (that’s a joke for anyone that watched tv in 1980). But the Tortilla Chip comes in a close second. It’s great as a vehicle for the delivery of other great foods like salsa and guacamole and of course cheese, glorious cheese. It is the foundation for the invention of nachos, which is one of the greatest food inventions of the last century. And still, it’s good all by itself. A thin corn crunch with a good salty flavor. Can’t get better than that. Today I saluted their awesomeness. That’s something I’ll keep doing as long as they keep putting tortilla chips on the table next to something I can dip it in. Don’t worry though – I won’t double dip.
Next Up: National Clam Chowder Day