Saturday, 10 May 2008

Pommes Sautés (Fried Potatoes)

These are not the most obvious times to be boiling oil. Even a shallow pan of it heats up my pint-size kitchen noticeably, while a thin film of grease accumulates on every surface--not only the stove itself, but also the wall tiles, the bookshelf and, unaccountably, between the two layers of the double-glazed window. And yet the sizzling and crackling sounds, the vague illicitness of it all ( I do not come from a family that fries), and oh, the texture--crispy brown and salty coating shielding an unctuous, creamy interior--are proving well neigh irresistible.

Thanks to a cheap but not unpleasant bottle of Tunisian olive oil, any fiscal concerns about pouring my lunch money into a pan have disappeared. So too have any real health concerns, when I noticed how much of said oil was not absorbed in the cooking process.

It began with a pan of cauliflower. Innocuous, if not for the fact that the recipe came from the Moro cookbook, which suceeds where so many others seasonal, local advocates fail in actually making simple food delicious. This recipe called for frying cauliflower florets until well-browned, then annointing them with a freshly-ground spice mix of cumin, coriander and fennel seeds, along with coarse salt. To put it in context, the cauliflower very nearly overshadowed two succulent lamb chops and a bottle of earthy, spicy red wine.

This past Friday, in need of a simple yet soul-satisfying supper, I made a meal that French diners would serve--if such a thing existed: a plain omelette and a side of rocket salad. A medium-weight Loire substituted for what is termed here as jus de chausette, or sock juice-- weak American coffee--here too with unlimited refills. But the highlight was nothing more or less than fried potatoes, cooked with bay leaves and garlic in lots of olive oil. I doubt the French would eat them with their fingers, but hey, that's American manners for you.

Next up, I think, are fritters of feta, mint and courgette. All I need now is a good window cleaner.

Potatoes in Olive Oil*

Serves 2 (can be doubled as long as your pan is large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer)

Total time: 1 hour; Active time: 10-15 minutes

The first key to this dish is to choose potatoes which hold their shape during frying. For Americans, Yukon Golds work well. I tend to use a red-skinned variety which you may or may not be able to access called Rosevals. The second is to only cook as many potatoes as fit easily in your largest pan. If you crowd them, they'll fry unevenly and be hard to turn.

Cut potatoes into large bite-size pieces. Boil water, salt it and cook the potatoes until they are almost soft. Drain and dry well. (Wet potatoes can cause messy and painful oil geysers.) In a large, wide, heavy-bottomed pan, heat a substantial film of oil, enough to amply cover the bottom of the potatoes. Just before the oil begins to smoke, add the potatoes and any hearty aromatics (rosemary or thyme branches and/or bay leaves). If using garlic, you can leave the cloves unpeeled. Either fry them for a few minutes then remove, or make sure that they stay nestled in the potatoes and don't crisp.

Turn the heat down slightly and leave the potatoes undisturbed for at least 10 minutes, or until they have developed a good crust and release easily from the pan. Turn carefully and repeat until brown on all sides--usually about 30 minutes. Don't rush. Drain on kitchen paper, salt generously and serve immediately. Mayonnaise would not be inappropriate, or even ketchup, but neither is necessary. The cooking oil can be cooled, drained of any solids and kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

* This is equally good with duck or goose fat, for those who want to test the veracity of the French paradox. In that case, red wine is obligatory, as it helps to unclog satured fat in the arteries.

1 comment:

jessie said...

i just love your food posts - it is so mouthwatering. i wonder if you'd consider writing food posts from france on our site, - i tried to find an email for you, but couldn't..??