I am an unapologetic fried potato snob. I need the outside crispy and the insides fluffy. And I *gasp* prefer a light mayo to ketchup as my condiment of choice. I have had bad fries and meh fries, from lifeless twigs spit out by many a fast food joint to what I will call "best intention" baked fries which lack texture and girth. And I have had awesome fries.
My first taste of what a fry should taste like was at a small "steak frites" bistro in a little town outside of Lyon, France. I had just arrived in Lyon to live with a family for a 6-month Au Pair study abroad and I was both travel weary and nervous. But my host family greeted me warmly (even though I freaked of tobacco after mistakenly buying a train ticket for the smoking car) and whisked me off right away for a proper Lyonnaise dinner. I have to admit - at the time, I made the assumption that they had pre-determined that as an American all I'd want to eat was meat and potatoes. Well, they may have prejudged me, but it was one of the best damn meals I have ever eaten. Not only was the steak remarkable in flavor - clean, rich, and with a grassy-minerally finish - but if fries can be perfect, these babies could have fostered world peace.
I tried technique after technique to achieve the perfect "French fry" at home. I once corned a chef at another steak frites bistro in town and asked about how he achieved such a perfect fry. He shrugged very French-ly and said "I just just fry them." Not very helpful to a home cook without a deep fryer. So I researched and experimented and finally nailed my version of a good fry a few years ago. But replicating the process for sweet potatoes just didn't work - they were never properly crispy, no matter how much I burned them, and I just didn't appreciate the texture. So I researched some more, and learned that because of their high sugar content sweet potatoes need a little extra help before you fry them to make sure they hold up.
Between Saveur, Cooks Illustrated, the Local Palate, and countless on-line sources, I found the right formula for the perfectly crispy, light, and happy sweet potato fries. I daresay, these may be some of the best fries you ever make at home - in fact, my husband declared that they are the best fries he has ever had. No kidding. And as long as you follow the instructions, they are virtually impossible to screw up. You could use any assortment of spices for the fry coating, but I have a particular affection for Chipotle pepper. The mayo is a light and refreshing compliment.
If you are like me you are a disaster with flour, so keep the broom and dustpan handy!
1 pound sweet potatoes, or 2-3 large
1 1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons chipotle powder
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
pinch fine kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Canola oil, for frying
1. Fill a large bowl with clean, cold water. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/4" thick fries. Dunk all of the fries in the bowl of water and swish around for a few seconds to wash. Drain the fries and rinse well under running water.
2. In a large bowl combine 1/4 cup of the cornstarch with the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, chipotle powder, chili powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, dump in the rest of the cornstarch. Set both bowls aside.
3. Shake any excess water off of the fries, then drop them in the bowl with the cornstarch and toss to coat. Place the fries in a wire colander or sifter and shake well over the sink to remove the extra starch. Then put the fries in the flour and spice mixture and toss to coat evenly.
4. Place a wire or cooling rack over a baking sheet covered with foil. Pile the fries on the rack and let sit for about 8 minutes. Place the rack of fries in the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove from the freezer and toss to keep the fries from sticking together. Place back in the freezer and freeze for about another 10 minutes, then toss again. Return to the freezer for another 30 minutes. You can now either use them right away, or bag them up and toss back in the freezer until ready to use.
5. Heat enough oil to cover one layer of fries in a heavy bottom pot over medium high heat until a cube of bread toasts quickly when dropped in. Have paper towels ready for draining. Drop in about a handful of fries and cook until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes, then remove using tongs or a wire fry basket and drain on the paper towels. Fry in small batches until you are done.
6. Serve hot with the Cilantro mayo.
1/2 cup good mayonnaise, or homemade mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly chopped chives
1. Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, and lime juice.
2. Stir in the chives and cilantro. Chill until ready to serve.