Crackling On Chips | travel dinner

From being a mere accompaniment added for texture to becoming the clever contrast and fun element, the story of Indian chips in the modern dining sphere is a fascinating tale.
Chips have the power to elevate any dish. Image: Shutterstock/Baibaz.

Consider chips. For the world, the word is synonymous with potato wafers. Put it in the Indian — or even Asian — context and it transforms into a culinary chapter of techniques that has not only given the thali one of its most delicious and fun elements but also a clever route to zero-waste cooking.

Think about it, says Chef Yogender Pal, Executive Chef, Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, “Chips, which in our parlance is any produce, thinly sliced ​​and flash fried supported occasionally with dry/wet marination, has played a multitude of roles in the thali : it is there for the contrast both in terms of texture and taste; but also, as this minimalistic approach towards keeping a produce’s natural flavor intact. These are the two most significant aspects of this age-old technique that makes it relevant not just to our culinary ledger but to the thali as well. Even today, the addition of chips, irrespective of the presence of papad and pickle, can crank up the experience. And in certain cases, the meal itself isn’t complete without the presence of chips — be it the banana chips or sandige with Bisi bele bath or fresh produce chips with pakhala in Odisha.”

In fact, Chef Vikas Seth, Culinary Director, Zest, continues “for many places, chips and its many variations play a significant role in giving the dish its appeal, and often essay the role of this bridge that often bring the flavors together. Take the instance of lotus root chips. These crunchy slices are not just popular accompaniments to any Asian/Oriental meal, when paired with Baos and Mantous, they help create this interesting palate play that allows you to enjoy the meal well by adding not just the crunch but also the much-needed break that enables you to appreciate the nuances of the dish.”

Or texture, taste & more

The palate foreplay that chips bring to a dish, says Chef Vidit Aren of Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît, “is much like how watermelon works for kebabs. The reason that Pashtuns developed the idea of ​​serving water-based fruits with the aggressively seasoned and rendered meat chunks was this kind of clean vacuum that watermelon and its ilk could create between bites. Chips take that play a notch higher. These crisps create the bite break by bringing in a new, fun palate play that leaves the mouth coated to enjoy deliciousness. That is one of the many reasons why the classic pairing of sandwiches with chips became so popular.”

That memorable texture and fun element, in fact, has been the single reason why chips, in their evolved formats, continue to be a part of every thinking chef’s menu — whether it is Chef Pal’s take on the Asian crackers to elevate the mouthfeel of crab mousse or create his signature roasted red pepper hummus that is served with crisp made of dehydrated potato starch; or Chef Aren’s famous Valentine’s dessert, the Malted Barley Ice cream, where he has used orange chips of give the handmade-from-scratch ice cream an “elevated nostalgic fervour and mouthfeel”.

A dessert at indian accent which incorporates home-style potato chips dusted with raspberry powder.
A dessert at Indian Accent which incorporates home-style potato chips dusted with raspberry powder.

Chips’ proven record as this essential second lead in any dish with its irrefutable ability on palate play thereof is also the reason why these crisps continue to be a big part of Chef Manish Mehrotra’s menu at Indian Accent. Chef Mehrotra, who considers chips — be they composite or single-produce based — as “indispensable tastemakers that showcase the textural importance in our cuisine” often relies on these age-old textural masters to create the perfect jungalbandhi in many of his creations. One such dish, Chef Mehrotra adds, “that I am proud of is the coming together of two of my favorite things: ice cream and potato chips. Built on nostalgia and curated for decadence, this dish has home-style potato chips dusted with raspberry powder served along with malai ice cream drizzled with maple syrup and pine nuts. It was the best showcase of how the texture play of chips help elevate a childhood favorite.”

The many forms of chips

That is the beauty of chips, says culinary advisor Chef Abhijit Saha of Glass, “especially of the repertoire that the Indian culinary space has created using a variety of produce, which includes not just vegetables, roots and fruits but also fish and meat that are used to give texture and elevate taste in our cuisine. In fact, the terminology in chips in the traditional culinary ledger often means any vegetable or a composite, which can either be two or more ingredients or two or more formats of the same produce.”

As a result, he adds, “while the slivers of produce that are flash fried like banana and yam chips fall into this category; so does the East Indian specialty of using pithau (a rice-based thin batter) to mildly season delicate produce and deep fry it, not to mention pan-Asian crackers which are also a part of the milieu.”

Fascinatingly, adds Chef Seth, “the range doesn’t stop here and also includes the dehydrated versions and those where the prominent ingredient is supported with a binding and crisping agent like corn flour, rice flour, etc.”

While the wider connotation and varied use has made chipsan inseparable part of our plates, where a bhindi kurkuri, karela chips or upperi is just as crucial to the meal as perhaps the bhaja or stir-fry vegetable; it has, says Chef Mandar Madav, Executive Chef, Conrad Centennial Singapore, “also made it a core essence of the modern-day dining experience. Chips today aren’t just an accompaniment to a dish, but also the element that lends contrasting texture support and flavor binder between two elements of a dish.”

A prove of this is Chef Madav’s use of the technique to create the mushroom tuiles and the cucumber flower for his signature dish called Truffle Brie, Piquillo Marmalade, Cucumber Flower. Created as a showcase of textural play on the palate, adds Chef Madav, “it deliciously elucidates the brilliance of chips not just in the composition of the dish but also the mouthfeel.”

Chef abhishek gupta of the leela ambience gurugram likes to use dehydration to produce chips.
Chef Abhishek Gupta of The Leela Ambience Gurugram likes to use dehydration to produce chips.

Chips’ ability to transform a dish, not just its presentation and composition but its perception too is something that has been at the foundation of Chef Abhishek Gupta’s Epic Table concept as well. Says the Executive Chef, The Leela Ambience Gurugram, “For me, the brilliance of chips is the creative liberty that the technique brings with it. Aside from the textural importance, it widens the horizons for using a produce in its entirety like skin of the chicken or fish, fat of meat, peels of tomatoes and other vegetables, beetroot trimmings, to name a few. And not only in terms of frying it, but with clever tweaking like sun drying, to oven drying, frying, blancing, baking, de-hydrating, used individually or in combination. One of my favorite ways to play chips in my food is by drying. Dehydrating produce, done traditionally or otherwise, in fact is one of the more fascinating ways to preserve food as it lowers the moisture thus discouraging decay and bacteria built up. In culinary parlance, it also helps capture the flavors and elevate them.”

In fact, dehydrated produce-based chips have been a staple in many of Chef Gupta’s slow food inspired work that showcase how chips can play the dual role of tastemaker as well as narrative.

A brilliant narrator

Another chef who has explored the chip’s capability to tell a story is Chef Kush Koli, Head Chef, SAGA, Gururgam for whom these munchies are the finest form of appetisers and relatability builders. There is, says Chef Koli, “something inherently welcoming about crisps and chips that works wonders for a progressive style composed dish. They add an element of joy to the dish thus adding to the experience. One of the reasons why at SAGA we have a huge squadron of chips that are designed from different sources and serve different purposes from being an appetiser to a palate cleanser to just textural tastemaker like our in-house made raw banana chips, which work best with Ghee Roast Prawns, and urlai roast as garnish and accompaniment.”

Fruit- and root-based chips are also something that feature high on the menu of Chef Sandeep Sadanandan, Head Chef at Byg Brewski Brewing Co. There is something amazing, says Chef Sandeep, “about how these traditional chips elevate not just a savory dish but also crank up the taste quotient on traditional takes. Like in the case of Kerala’s popular snack, Pazham Pori, which is often made on request. In the Byg Brewski version, I use banana three ways to present the fritter. While the traditional fritters use the Ethakya variety for its sweetness, in our version, I have used the pulp also in the ice cream and the raw varietal along with the skin as chips to introduce not a dual crunch element to the dish, but also transform the snack into a meal.”

The koliwada fried bhakti at dhansoo cafe is served with sweet potato chips.
The Koliwada Fried Bhekti at Dhansoo Café is served with Sweet Potato Chips.

It is an aspect of chips that Chef Ashish Singh, Corporate Chef, Dhansoo Café endorses too and finds it as one of the endearing qualities that has helped him “introduce new elements and produce to the dishes like the Koliwada Fried Bhekti we serve with Sweet Potato Chips, which beautifully compliments the sweetness of the fish.”

Chips rise to the fore

For Chef Varun Totlani, Head Chef, Masque, however, chips hold the plush job of a great amuse bouche or an appetiser. These can, says Chef Totlani, effectively set the tone for an evening of indulgence and have remained the invincible first course at Masque since 2016, including the bar “where veggie trimmings are served as an accompaniment.”

The mulberry granita at masque which incorporates chewy banana bits and crunchy banana chips.
The mulberry granita at Masque which incorporates chewy banana bits and crunchy banana chips.

This has over the years, says the seasoned chef, “kept us on the good side of minimum food wastage in the kitchen, and also enabled us to create elements that have defined our offering. Like with our mulberry granita topped with chewy banana bits, banana ice cream, and crunchy banana chips. We use three different types of bananas for flavor and texture; for the chips, we use a sweeter Kerala variety where you can see the natural sugars caramelise as they fry. At The Living Room, we serve vegetable trimming chips, bound with tapioca starch, fried, and served with a Masque hot sauce-based dip.”

Dehydrated pineapple chips soaked in rum are used in the pineapple upside-down cake at the olive bar & kitchen.
Dehydrated pineapple chips soaked in rum are used in the pineapple upside-down cake at the Olive Bar & Kitchen.

Chips and its many formats are also what has enticed Chef Dhruv Oberoi to create a plethora of crispies that have lend that unforgettable character to many of the dishes the pastry genius serves in The Grammar Room at Olive Bar & Kitchen, while allowing the slow food- advocate the liberty to use not only more of the produce but also bring in interesting indigenous produce to the fore. Thanks to the idea of ​​chips, the approach towards food has changed immensely as every portion of a produce today is seen as a potential candidate for the crunch element, says Chef Oberoi, “and often it has helped us create crackers and crisp that are headliners . Like dehydrated pineapple chips, which are soaked in rum to give that tactile element to the pineapple upside-down cake; or the on your table made nitrogen salted caramel-coated ragi pops that lend the element of crunch to our whiskey banana choco-bar and the purple sweet potato “pommes maxim”, which is used as a crown and garnish with the peach tea cake and black tea ice cream.”

Madhulika dash
Known for her columns on food anthropology, Chefs’ Retreat and wellness-based experiential tables, Madhulika Dash has also been on the food panel of Masterchef India Season 4, a guest lecturer at IHM, and is currently part of the Odisha government’s culinary council.

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