Of all the things into which a potato can be made — baked, mashed, au gratin or scalloped, to name a few — lucky is the potato that ends up as a fry. Beloved by children and ketchup manufacturers the world over, the french fry is both simple and complex. The ingredient list is short and the reward is large. Crunchy, crisp, steamy and creamy, the humble fry brings it all and is content with playing a supporting role on the dinner plate. Who ever heard of “Chips and Fish,” after all?
Even on its own it often gets second billing. Case in point: chili cheese fries. Just watch that chili step into the spotlight, elbowing out the cheese and the fries for top billing.
But the fry’s humility is a boost to its popularity. Fries show up everywhere, and many countries are quick to claim some fry variant as a national treasure. Did you know that the Belgians and the French engage in a heated disputes over which of them “invented” the french fry? While they argue among themselves, the Spanish can clearly take credit for bringing potatoes back to Europe from South America in the late 1500s. Cultivation spread slowly but surely throughout the Old World to the point that potato consumption skyrocketed and potatoes became a sustaining crop for a huge number of people. But even in the New World (and the old New World, where potatoes originated), fries are beloved. Just try to visit Montreal without indulging in poutine. I dare you.
That said, the most common preparation for fries calls for crisping them up in hot oil (they are, I don’t need to remind you, called “fries” for a reason). The best fries may even take two dips in the fryer — a quick first bath, following by a rest, and then back in the fryer a second time to get really crispy and crunchy. Yummy, yes. Healthy, no.
Options for avoiding the deep fryer are limited. Too often, cooking fries in the oven results in soggy, flimsy fries. Hardly worthy of piling next to a burger. So we consulted Cook’s Illustrated for their Lighter Oven Fries recipe (FYI – you’ll need a subscription to access the link). What I really liked about their particular technique was the initial “steaming” of the fries by covering them with aluminum foil during the first several minutes of baking. What I didn’t like was that “lighter” still meant over a quarter cup of oil.
So we tinkered. We also figured out that, by lightly oiling the fries instead of the pan and then placing the fries on a screeching hot heavy-duty baking sheet, the natural sugars in the potatoes caramelized quickly, resulting in beautiful browning and less sticking when we flipped the fries.
We served ours with the Beef and Wheat Berry Sliders we blogged about in our last post. An indulgent “oops” was finding out how tasty the fries were with the mint mayo we’d made for the sliders. I highly recommend serving some on the side for dipping. This was something I enjoyed but just couldn’t get our Stout Sprouts to try. They, like others of their age and ilk, go for the ketchup. All things in due time.
Speaking of which, Daughter 1 impressed me again with her knife skills, helping to cut potato wedges after I’d done the initial potato prep. And any kid can assist by mixing the potato wedges with oil and salt, before a parent takes over and gets them in to the oven.
If fries are your thing but you share our concerns about trans fats and too much sodium, give this recipe a try. Eat ’em hot and you’ll see how this easy recipe for oven fries is indulgent and guilt-free at the same time. That’s one humble fry.
4 large Russet potatoes, peeled
3 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
Kosher salt, to season
Condiment of choice (try our mint mayo, some malt vinegar, or ketchup)
Cut each peeled potato into 10 wedges by slicing the potato lengthwise into four equally-thick ovals. Slice the middle (larger) ovals into three planks each, and the outer ovals (smaller) into two planks each. Rinse them well with warm water and place in a large bowl. Cover them with hot water and allow them to soak for between 30 and 60 minutes.
Drain and pat completely dry with a kitchen towel. Return them to the bowl (wipe it dry as well before putting the potatoes back in) and toss the potatoes with the grapeseed oil and a generous pinch of Kosher salt so that they are equally coated.
Meanwhile, place a sturdy baking sheet on the middle-lower oven rack and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.
When the oven and baking sheet have reached temperature, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Working quickly, arrange the potato wedges on the baking sheet in one layer (potatoes will hiss a little when they hit the hot pan; do not allow them to overlap) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Pinch down the edges carefully (use hot pad holders) and return the baking sheet to the oven. Bake for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes have passed, carefully remove the aluminum foil and rotate the pan without disturbing the fries. Bake for another 20 minutes or until the bottoms of the fries are light brown.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully flip the fries so that the un-browned side is down. They should not stick (much), though you may have to agitate them a little to loosen them from the pan. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven, sprinkle the fries lightly with additional Kosher salt to taste, and allow the fries to cool slightly before serving with the condiments of your choice.
Serves: 4 – 6
Kid rating: five stars. This is a little bit of a no-brainer, asking the kids whether they like french fries. They do. Very much. These particular fries have the advantage of allowing you to control how much salt goes on, and what is served alongside. Our Sprouts wolfed them down. One of the most popular side dishes in our kitchen!
Parent rating: four stars. These are decidedly better for you than anything you’ll get from a drive-through and even have an edge on fries that have been deep fried at home. And while they don’t have that indulgently crisp crunch that only comes from a vat of near-boiling oil, they are tender on the inside and deliciously browned on the outside. Fresh from the oven and dipped in a little mayo or ketchup, they are wonderful. Paired with a beefy burger, they are even better.