Not everything can be turned into crisps, but that won’t stop us trying. The food industry has spent billions attempting to replicate the genius of the thinly sliced, deep-fried potato, with varying degrees of success. The most common approach is, of course, the alternative vegetable base – kale probably still tops the crisp success stories of recent years, followed by a medley of root vegetables – parsnip, carrot and beetroot. (Parsnip is the king of this trilogy; the other two are reduced to wizened slivers in the crisp-making process.) Then there are crisps that shun vegetables, instead taking trendy grains as their base. Third, there are bog-standard potato crisps with outlandish flavours. Curry is commonplace (from katsu to chip-shop curry sauce), fancy fare is available (from Gressingham duck to truffled asparagus), and there are pudding crisps (from mint chocolate to Christmas pudding and brandy butter).
On the booze front, the stalwart ale crisp has been joined by a host of prosecco variants, some sprinkled with edible gold stars (thank you, M&S), and some popular cocktail varieties. I had a surprisingly positive experience with a G&T crisp several months ago, so, in the spirit of experimentation, I’m trying to cook my own new-fangled versions to see if any are a match for the everyday crisp.
One note: I’m only considering crisps as the sort of things you might serve as an accompaniment to drinks before a meal, so I won’t be tasting them with dip. Crisps need to be able to stand alone.
Parsnip and pals have become as pedestrian as the potato in recent years so I’ve opted for a less-used root vegetable – radishes are the prettiest and most peppery of all.
Method: As with all crisps, excess moisture is the enemy. I lay a tea towel flat and cover it with neat, dense rows of mandolined radishes and turnips, then tightly roll it and leave it for 20 minutes to dry out the vegetables. I toss the discs in a splash of oil and a squeeze of lemon, seasoning them well before laying out the penny-sized pink-and-purple-rimmed pieces on a lined baking tray. I bake them at a moderate heat for 20 minutes until slight browning occurs, before adjusting the oven to its lowest temperature for another 20 minutes for everything to crisp up.
Verdict: The radish slices shrink so much that I feel a bit disheartened, but what I’ve been left with is a decidedly attractive tray of delicate little rose petals. And they’re delicious; sweet, slightly bitter and audibly crispy. They taste of peppery roots – a very good thing in a crisp. They’re such a success that I eat them all and make them again – this time sprinkled with truffle oil and grated parmesan. Their size and fragility mean they’re not as filling as a real crisp, but they could work well as a crisp amuse-bouche before proper crisps are served.
Because the idea of healthy crisps appeals to everyone.
Method: After consulting several blogs, I learn that a quinoa crisp entails rinsing and dry-frying raw quinoa, before blending it to a paste with water (I went for 200g raw quinoa to 100g water). The resultant mush, visually similar to a rough hummus, is seasoned and flavoured before being dolloped on a lined baking tray and made into a uniform layer by topping with a silicone sheet and rolling with a rolling pin. Once it’s evenly spread, ideally about 2mm thick throughout, you can sprinkle some extra flavouring on top. It then goes into the oven to dry out partially, before being sliced into crisps (I did a mix of squares and triangles), flipped, and returned to the oven to dry out totally and become crisp.
Verdict: This is a moisture-vanquishing snack that makes swallowing hard. It needs dip. On the upside, it’s certainly crisp – tooth-crackingly so. But it’s more crispbread than crisp. On reflection, I could have used cooked quinoa, as several bloggers suggested. The success of the potato crisp is its abject nothingness, its tremendous ability to fade into the background – the quinoa crisp does no such thing.
Flavouring a crisp with my favourite tipple feels more achievable, and more original, than attempting to flavour one to replicate a favourite meal. These are alcohol-free crisps, as are all other booze-flavoured snacks on the market. (No doubt someone will see fit to change this in the not-too-distant future; it’s already possible to get drunk off 12 fruit pastilles).
Method: Only the tuber will do as a base. The common potato crisp isn’t the simplest to whip up at home though because they’re starchy beasts that refuse to crisp up unless some of that starch is removed. With this in mind, I mandolin my potatoes directly into a bowl of cold water and leave them for an hour, before drying with a tea-towel. And while baking a parsnip crisp might yield great results the humble spud benefits from a decent cloaking in oil, so I deep-fry them in several inches of sunflower. While they’re still hot, I toss them in my homemade Campari powder (zest of an orange left to dry out on a plate for half an hour, the tip of a bay leaf chopped as finely as possible, a large pinch of sea salt and a small pinch of five spice).
Verdict: I’m pretty pleased with my Campari powder. In terms of taste it’s right up there with the radish. And if you can’t be bothered with the hassle of destarching potatoes etc, you can always just buy a packet of ready salted crisps, put them on a baking tray in a hot oven for several minutes until their oils come to the surface, then toss them in the Campari powder.