Recipe Box: Pita Chips, or Barthes’ Crunch Hypothesis

Roland Barthes

Was the French semiologist Roland Barthes the first person to notice the American fascination with crispy foods in his groundbreaking 1970 essay,“Pour une psycho-sociologie de l’alimentation contemporaine”? He was perhaps the first scholar to make a point of it, noting that crisp, salty food afforded a “reawakening, shrillness, opposed to the thickening and dull texture of sweet food.”

But walk down any snack or breakfast cereal aisle of any grocery store and you’ll see evidence of our love of crunch, both salty and sweet.

For some reason, most people relegate crispy, crunchy foods to professionals, preferring to buy them rather than make them. It’s true deep frying can be daunting, and since that’s the way most crunch commercial food products achieve their desirable texture, there isn’t much for a hot–vat-of-fat-fearing home cook to do. (Nuts are a crunch exception, but even they are often deep fried, aka “dry roasted.”)

A fraction of the pita chip selection at Whole Foods in Chelsea.

But pita chips are the exception. Unlike “baked” potato or tortilla chips, which are an unnatural abhoration, pita chips should be baked. The other day at my local Whole Foods I was surprised by how many different brands of pita chips were on sale. Nothing more than baked and salted pieces of pita, I wondered why anyone would ever pay an inflated price for something so easy to make. I can only imagine the profit margin on one configuration that delivered six ounces of individually wrapped one-ounce packages of pita chips for $3.99. The same Whole Foods sells a ten-ounce package of pita for $1.99. I came home and in less time than it took to make mash an avocado for guacamole, I had a basket full of these salty, crunch chips. Nate couldn’t believe I made them, nor that pita chips could taste so delicious and fresh.

Mitchell’s Pita Chips

Yield: 60 chips

3 pitas

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Insert a small, sharp paring knife into the edge of the pita, sharpened blade facing out, and separate the halves of the pita by cutting around the circumference.

Using a paring knife, split the pitas in half.

Brush the smooth (outer) surface of each half of the pita lightly with olive oil and stack on top of each other.

Brush the smooth, outer side lightly with extra-virgin olive oil and stack.

Cut the pita in half down the diameter and then cut each half into 5 equal wedges.

Cut the stack of oiled pitas into wedges.

Arrange the wedges smooth, oiled side up in a single layer with minimal overlapping, on two baking sheets. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Spread out evenly on baking sheets in a single layer and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, checking often, until the pita are lightly and evenly toasted. They may not be thoroughly crisp to the touch, but they will firm up as they cool.

Crunchy pita chips.

For something different, season the pita with freshly ground black pepper, toasted cumin, herbes de Provence, or zatar before baking.

Note: I realize that this is a rather elaborately illustrated blog post for something as easy to make (and to visualize making) as pita chips. But I’m just trying out this blog posting thing and see what the medium can do. Thanks for bearing with me while I figure out my approach.

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1 Comment

Filed under Food for Thought, Recipe Box

One response to “Recipe Box: Pita Chips, or Barthes’ Crunch Hypothesis

  1. Allison

    I love that you referenced Barthes in this! I was just telling a friend about a passage in Empire of Signs (one of my all-time favorite books), in which he analyzes and compares the Japanese method of eating with chopsticks to the Western knife-and-fork technique. Quite biased, and quite entertaining. He clearly thought a lot about food.

    I’ll be making these chips tonight. I’ll tell Jay to thank you.

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