In part two of our Farm Show make-at-home series, the potato is top of mind. At last year’s show — my first — I bypassed the giant sandwiches and funnel cakes and went straight for the baked potato, a thing of simple beauty which I inhaled with utter delight.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for poking a plastic fork into a big ole buttered spud in the middle of a crowded expo center, take heart; making your own baked potato is a low-maintenance cinch and you can watch the show while you wait.
Deep-frying potatoes at home is a trickier matter, as it requires two rounds of frying and can trip up even the most intrepid of cooks. The other voice in my head would not quit, urging me to keep looking for simpler Plan B.
I found a recipe for oven-baked fries in my well-worn copy of “The New Basics Cookbook,” the iconic collection penned by Julee Rosso and the late Sheila Lukins in 1989. As my first cookbook purchase a year after college, “New Basics” was my kitchen bible, this Gen Xer’s equivalent of “Joy of Cooking.”
But I had my doubts: Could “New Basics” deliver the goods and give home cooks a truly crispy Farm Show-quality fry? There was only one way to find out.
The oven-baked method tears a page from the deep-fried school and respectfully requests that you soak the peeled potatoes before cooking. This step is key in helping to draw out starch, which helps keep potatoes from sticking together. What’s different —and kind of genius — about the oven-baked method is that in lieu of a quick dip in hot oil, the potatoes get tossed in just-heated fat, then into a hot oven to finish the job.
The results — golden, tender yet crisp and ever-so-slightly greasy — are triumphant. Better still, my beat-up old cookbook has taught me a fabulous new trick.
OVEN-BAKED FRENCH FRIES
Excerpted from “The New Basics Cookbook” by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins.
Makes 4 servings. Amounts can be halved.
- 4 russet potatoes, about 1/2 pound each
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup neutral or peanut oil
- Salt to taste
1. To minimize browning, prep the potatoes one at a time: Peel, cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half in half the same way. Your pieces should be about 1/4-inch thick. Slice each piece into lengthwise strips.
2. Place potatoes, as they are cut into a bowl and cover with water until they are completely submerged. Add the vinegar and let potatoes soak for 1 hour.
3. Drain the potatoes and place on a kitchen towel, thoroughly patting them dry.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
5. Place the butter and oil in a large skillet or deep saucepan over medium-high heat, heating until the butter is melted. Turn off the heat and add the potatoes, turning with tongs or a large spoon until well coated.
6. Divide the potatoes among two sheet pans, arranging in a single layer.
7. Bake until the bottom side is golden, about 20 minutes. Turn on the second side and bake until golden, an additional 15 minutes or so.
8. Remove and immediately transfer fries to brown paper or paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and eat right away.
8 STEPS TO A GREAT BAKED POTATO
Fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside and hot enough to give you a mini facial when you zip open the middle. That’s my idea of a stellar baked potato. Here’s my cheat sheet to get there.
Choose a high-starch variety, such as a russet. High starch means low moisture, which means dry and fluffy goodness that readily absorbs your potato fixins.
Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Wash and pat dry.
Rub salt all over. A light coat is good; no need to pack it on.
Poke with a fork; this creates a steam valve, which is a good thing.
Place directly on an oven rack. No foil wrap, no slathering butter or oil on the skin, no sheet pans. A naked salted potato on a rack ensures a crispy skin.
Set a timer for 45 minutes (smaller potatoes, around 5 or 6 ounces, will likely be done; for potatoes weighing more than 8 ounces, estimate 60 to 70 minutes.
Carefully transfer potatoes to a work surface and slice open down the middle. Be mindful of the steam.
Garnish to your heart’s desire with any or all of the following: Unsalted butter, sour cream, plain yogurt, grated cheese; chives, scallions, crumbled bacon, salsa.