Friday, March 15, 2013

Crispy Oven Fries

For many years when I have endured numerous kitchen conundrums Cooks Illustrated has come to my rescue.  CI has to be one of my favorite food magazines because there is no paid advertising so when they test something or recommend a product, whether it be food stuffs or equipment, it is truly their opinion; not some manufacturer paying for their endorsement.  And they know their stuff.  The other reason is because they do all the hard work of testing and trying and figuring out why something does or doesn't work.

I spent years and countless pounds of potatoes trying to produce a good crispy oven 'fried' potato. Most of those attempts produced potatoes that were either limp, underdone, overdone or so crispy they resembled a piece of coal.  I just couldn't find the right formula for making them as good as deep fried potatoes; tender on the inside and crispy on the exterior.  I wanted the taste and texture without all the oil.  The solution was handed to me on a silver platter in the form of an article in the January/February 2004 issue of Cook's Illustrated.

Particular steps became very key to transforming my oven fries from soggy and mushy to crispy perfection.  It may seem, at first, that there are so many frivelous steps taken just to get a good oven fry.  It is so worth it, however.   After a couple of times using this method you will be making them in your sleep and your family members and guests will praise your name and demand more fries.

I'm going to share with you some of the knowledge I gleaned from the article that made my oven fries creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside.

To begin, let's talk about the potatoes.  Russets beat out all the others for fries.  I also elect to peel the potatoes rather than leave part of the peel on.  Skins off they had more of that original french fry taste.

Once the potatoes are peeled I like to slice mine thin, but cutting them into thick wedges is perfectly fine too.  Soak them in ice cold water for about an hour.  After 30 minutes you will notice the water is all cloudy.  This is starch that is being leached out of the potato.  Pour this off, rinse and re-cover with fresh ice cold water and stick the bowl back in the fridge.  Starch prohibits moisture from leaving the potato; and you want some moisture to leave the potato so it can become crispier.

Since we've had the potatoes soaking to remove some of the starch, we now have to make sure we get the potatoes dry.  Forget about tamping the moisture off of them with mamby pamby paper towels.  Grab a good, thick kitchen towel, lay them out in a single layer and pat them dry then let them sit there while you prepare the pan.

 I found it interesting that in the CI testing using a heavy baking pan made a big difference. I used to grab an older, light weight jelly roll pan instead of using my better, heavier pans. CI stresses that a heavier pan is best.  A lightweight pan yielded fries that were either pale or burnt; or rather inconsistent. The heavyweight pan produced even browning because it conducts heat better.

In the past even though I tossed the potatoes in a bowl with olive oil my potatoes always stuck to the pan horribly.  Now, I cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spread about 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil over the parchment.

Sprinkle a light sprinkling of Kosher salt on the surface of the parchment.  CI stated that this aided even more to prevent sticking with the salt particles acting like little ball bearings suspending the potato slice from the pan.  Whatever....I actually rolled my eyes at this statement but thought what the heck, I'll try it.  Turned out to be a great idea.  Worked like a charm.

Arrange the potato slices so they are not touching.  Most likely you will need more than one pan so you do not crowd the potatoes.  Just giving you a heads up.

Slightly steaming the potatoes aided in giving them a creamy interior.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place them on the very bottom rack in the preheated oven.

Adjusting the rack to the lowest position made a big improvement for the fries due to the intense heat from the bottom of the oven browning them quickly and evenly.

Potatoes were steamed this way for about 5 minutes then the foil was removed. Bake the potatoes uncovered for approximately 10 minutes then turn the pan around for another 10, or until they are golden and crispy.

So, here's how you can make good crispy oven fries for yourself.  Now, go out and get yourself a subscription to Cook's Illustrated.  It'll do your kitchen good.

Crispy Oven Fries
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated - January/February 2004
Serves 3 to 4

3 russet potatoes (about 8 ounces each)
2 to 3 Tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil
Kosher salt and black ground pepper

Peel potatoes.  Slice lengthwise into 1/2" to 3/4" slabs.  Slice each slab lengthwise into thin sticks.  Place potatoes in mixing bowl and cover with cold water.  Place in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.  Drain and rinse starchy water off potatoes and cover with fresh cold water.  Place back in refrigerator for another 20 - 30 minutes.

Drain potatoes and lay out on heavy kitchen towel.  Thoroughly pat dry and allow to sit and dry while you prepare the pan(s) and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

Line heavy 18 x 12-inch heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil on parchment paper. Sprinkle parchment with light coat of kosher salt.
You will most likely need to prepare two baking sheets so your potatoes are not crowded (that is what the 3rd Tbsp. of oil is for).

Rinse and wipe out the empty mixing bowl; return potatoes to bowl and toss with remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil.  Arrange potatoes in single layer on prepared baking sheet; cover tightly with foil.  With the oven rack placed on the lowest position, bake for 5 minutes.  Remove foil and continue to bake for 15 to 20 minutes more, turning baking sheet after 10 minutes, until potatoes are spotty golden brown.

Transfer potatoes to a second baking sheet lined with paper towels.  Season with additional salt and the pepper to taste.

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