Guys, I love french fries. When we’re at a place that takes pride in their little, crispy, golden batons of creamy potato goodness, I’m pretty eager to order them, knowing that I’m in for a delicious, salty treat. It’s a simple dish, yes, but a lot of cooks manage to screw them up. They might use icky oil. The potatoes could be cut too thick, rendering the fry impossibly hot in the middle and not very crisp overall. The cook doesn’t apply enough salt when the potatoes come out of the frier. They aren’t cooked long enough resulting in a heap of slightly soggy and pale fries. Or the worst offense: they resort to frozen, par-cooked french fries. So many things wrong with that. Simple does not equal easy. Or quick. Or thoughtless.
I would call my overall cooking style simple in that I love to bring out the best in any particular ingredient I’m loving at the time. It speaks to eating with the seasons, which seems natural to me. I’ll roast a whole, sweet squash with hearty herbs at high heat for at least an hour. Similar to the long and hot cooking time, the squash takes a whole, humid summer to fully develop and the herbs I pair it with can grow right alongside the whole time. Gorgeous ripe tomatoes appear after about 7 weeks and taste perfect just sliced with salt and quick-growing fresh basil torn on top. They both love sandy soil and hot summer days. These preparations are simple in that they just make sense. There’s a thought process behind them that comes from experience. The approach is one of care, reverence, awareness and love. That is the heart of simple food.
So with that I give you these delicious and reasonably healthy frites made in the oven (less than a tablespoon of oil per serving! I know, right?). 2 potatoes, a bit of oil and a good pinch of salt gives you some pretty crispy and convincing little potato sticks of joy. I’ve learned a few basic principles of perfect french fry-making over the years. When I started working for a Canadian chef that was known for his version of my favourite dish, you have no idea how stoked I was to take in some of that knowledge. In brief, I’ve learned that cooking the potatoes in two stages, one to soften the interior and one to crisp the outsides, is key. Soaking the potatoes to get the starch out, a thorough in-between drying and tossing the finished product with salt while still crazy hot are all important components of french fry success. I figured the same wisdom would translate from fryer to oven and surprise, it kinda did.
And the mayonnaise! Originally the idea of dipping something so perfectly crunchy in the stuff grossed me out. I was eventually shown the way through (repeat) consumption of a clean tasting apple cider mayonnaise. Mine has a pine nut base, some garlic and smoky paprika thrown in for good measure. It’s a tangy and delicious compliment. But feel free to stick with classic ketchup or malt vinegar if you want to take refuge in crispy, golden and beautiful simplicity.
Oh, and thank you for all of your lovely birthday wishes last week. Big hugs!
oven frites with smoky paprika & garlic mayonnaise
special equipment: a blender for the mayonnaise
notes: This is an exercise in knife skills! Getting those potatoes into little matchsticks is so key.
2 large potatoes (russett or yukon gold are great)
1.5 tbsp neutral oil (grape seed, sunflower etc)
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, soaked at least 4 hours (or cashews, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds etc)
1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1 clove of garlic
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment. Fill a large bowl with water and set aside.
Peel the potatoes and wash them. Slice them lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Julienne the slices lengthwise, placing the matchsticks into the water as you finish. Allow the potatoes to soak for at least 15 minutes.
Make the mayonnaise: combine the pine nuts, dijon, water, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, salt and paprika (if using) in a blender pitcher. Gradually bring the speed of the blender up to high. Mix on high until thoroughly pureed. Scrape sides of pitcher down if necessary. Once smooth, scrape mayonnaise into a container and place in the fridge to set up a bit.
Drain the potatoes and dump matchsticks onto a clean kitchen towel. Fold excess towel over the potatoes and dry them thoroughly. Toss the potatoes in a large bowl with the 1.5 tbsp oil and a fat pinch of salt (you’ll be salting them once finished so exercise moderation). Place the coated potatoes on the prepared baking sheet, ensuring that they aren’t too close together. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are very soft and just starting to brown on the edges. Remove tray from the oven.
Bring the oven temperature up to 425 degrees F. Place tray back in the oven once up to temperature. Cook for another 15 minutes, flipping the frites at least once. Remove from oven when potatoes are golden brown and crispy.
Using the same bowl (with a thin coating of oil remaining on it), toss the hot frites with another fat pinch of salt and the minced thyme. Serve immediately with the mayonnaise