Pommes douces frites

January 21, 2007 on 3:33 pm | By | In Recipes, Techniques | 1 Comment

Sweet potato friesFrench fries are one of my (many) weaknesses. I just can’t turn down their salty, crispy goodness. Sometimes I’ll dip ’em in ketchup; other times, if I’m feeling French, I’ll dip ’em in Dijon. Chipotle mayo and ranch dressing are also mighty tasty accompaniments. Of course, such caloric indulgences must occur in moderation lest my behind begins to resemble a giant mound of mashed potatoes. Baked French fries lessen the damage somewhat, but they’re still white potatoes — those too easily digested tubers that whip through your system in record time, providing little to no sustained energy. (But DANG, they’re good!).

Enter the sweet potato.

These delightful roots only recently became part of my culinary repertoire. Up until a couple years ago, this Yankee had only associated them with southern cooking. I also didn’t realize what we call “yams” here in the States are actually orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (true yams are humongous tubers only grown in south and central America, the West Indies and parts of Asia and Africa). My first encounter with sweet potatoes was most likely in chip form. Either packaged in a medley of taro, yuca and beet chips, or served as an appetizer with fruit salsa, they had me at the first bite.

Once I became a chef I began experimenting with them more. Tossed with fresh herbs and garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, they add a touch of sweetness to my roasted root vegetables. I also love them mashed, either mixed with a bit of chipotle en adobo or tossed with brown sugar and topped with toasted pecans.

Then a couple of months ago one of my clients requested baked sweet potato fries. I was intrigued! I perused my favorite recipe sites and found a promising one on Epicurious. After cutting the potatoes into 1/2 inch strips, you toss them with oil and bake them at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, turning occasionally. I tested the recipe at home before preparing them for the client; they were very good, but weren’t terribly crispy. I didn’t have any more success with my client’s batch. I tried using my Benriner mandolin to cut the potatoes into uniform fries, but none of the toothed blades were large enough (they ended up looking more like shoestring potatoes). So I was forced to cut the potatoes by hand, thus losing the desired uniformity (my knife skills are serviceable, but not stellar). My client’s oven bakes hotter than mine, so these potatoes ended up burning just as they started to crisp. Back to the drawing board.

For my next attempt I was inspired by a recent Food & Wine recipe for Japanese frites. Unpeeled sweet potatoes are cut into 1/2″ sticks, deep-fried and tossed with nori flakes and nanami togarashi, a Japanese seasoning blend of chili peppers, orange peel, ginger and sesame seeds. I still wanted a baked version, so I reduced the oven temperature to 450. I once again turned to my mandolin, thinking shoestring potatoes would have greater success at crisping up. Sure enough, they did crisp, but they also were on the verge of burning. While my darling and I enjoyed them, they wouldn’t be something I’d serve a client. Back once again to the drawing board (or more accurately, Costco).

As my darling and I were pushing our cart through Costco’s produce section I spied a woman carrying what I thought were two bags of baby carrots. Her husband thought the same thing, as I heard him ask why she needed so many. Turns out one was a 3-pound package of sweet potatoes cut into fries. bag of sweet potatoesBrilliant! So solves my cutting dilemma. I snatched a bag, barely containing my glee (normally I only covet other people’s purchases once I’m already in line, too late to do anything about it).

I used the recipe on the bag as a guideline, tossing the fries with some Asian mustard, olive oil, lime juice, nori flakes and the nanami togarashi. These fries baked at an even lower temperature (400 degrees), which I found to be a bit too low. I increased the temp for my next try to 425, which was a definite improvement. However, I think I need to resign myself to the fact baked sweet potato fries will never be as crispy as baked russet fries (or those that are deep fried). For you Seattleites, I liken the texture of baked sweet potato fries to Dick’s fries — soft and yummy.

Baked Asian Sweet Potato Fries

1 tablespoon prepared Asian mustard or Dijon
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
nori flakes, to taste
nanami togarashi, to taste
3 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ julienne

Preheat oven to 425. Mix the dijon, lime juice, olive oil, nori* and togarashi* in a bowl. Add sweet potato fries and toss until well covered with mustard mixture. Spread out in a single layer on a rimmed baking baking sheet. Bake fries for 15 minutes, flip over and continue baking for 10-20 minutes, or until browned. Sprinkle with salt, if desired.

* These can be found in Asian markets. I’ve found they tend to burn somewhat, so next time I may try tossing the fries after they’ve been baked.

1 Comment

  1. Hey! I have that same plate! Just a couple of them that I use for serving plates. 🙂

    Comment by Culinary Fool — January 24, 2007 #

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