Saturday, April 16, 2011

Perfectly Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

My first sweet potato fry tasting was a number of years ago, and if yours was like mine, it was an experience never forgotten.  It was a moment where I was holding in my mind what I thought to be an accurate expectation of what a sweet potato fry would taste like—then took a bite and realized that my expectation was delightfully, horribly wrong.

The shape is about all there is that is similar between regular and sweet potato fries.  The differences, on the other hand, are numerous: the texture is crispy yet smooth; the taste is salty then sweet; the color is flat out beautiful.

Despite my love for these fries, for years I've avoided making them because every time I tried, the result was mediocre at best.

Until the other night...

Once again, Bittman helped out.  I didn't use his recipe, but I did use an element of a recipe of his that I had made a week ago.  In How to Cook Everything he has a recipe for Crispy Chicken Cutlets with something or other.  The "crispy" comes from a very basic batter of 1 cup of flour blended with 1/2 cup water.  I decided to use that batter to coat some sweet potato fries to see if I could get that same wonderful crisp that accompanies only the best s.p. fries.

So, I washed two large sweet potatoes, cut them in half crosswise, then cut those halves into 1/4-inch sticks.  Any really small leftover bits I tossed.  I let the sticks sit on the counter for a good hour to dry out some.  (I'm not sure if it really did anything or not.  Maybe next time I won't let them dry out to see if it changes the result.)

When I was ready to fry I whisked up the batter of 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water with a few heavy dashes of cayenne pepper, divided the sticks into 4 batches, then tossed the sticks in the batter and quickly dropped them one fry at a time (to keep them from sticking together) into a deep fryer at 350 degrees for 4 1/2 minutes.  Each batch was salted with coarse salt immediately after coming out of the fryer and kept hot in the oven.

A word about deep frying: I have found from personal experience that using a deep fryer provides much, MUCH better results than frying in a pot of oil on the stove.  I've had experience with using multiple stoves and found that, with all of them, the oil just doesn't get hot enough, or it takes too long to get hot again after a batch is done frying.  The whole point of deep frying is to get the oil super hot so that when you drop your food into the oil, the water in your food immediately starts to steam, pushing OUT of the food, and creating a type of barrier that keeps the oil from soaking IN. This produces food that is 1) deliciously crisp and 2) not greasy, i.e. the best of fried food.  It is necessary to use a deep-fat/candy thermometer, so be sure to have one on-hand.

The result? OMG.  They were restaurant-quality, not meaning to brag.  The flesh was tender, the batter crispy and golden.  Holy cow, I need to do that again, for SURE.

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