Tuesday, June 08, 2010


I’ve made these four or five times without managing to post them here, partly because I was still tinkering with the process and partly because I could never really get a good-looking photo of them. But now that I’ve recommended them as a side dish for BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches, I’d better get on with it. I feel a little shaky giving direction on this one because I cobbled it together from a couple of different recipes and can never quite remember the exact steps I’ve followed from one batch to the next, so it turns out a little different every time and the method is more intuitive/improvisational than my usual approach. OK, it’s not like making sweet potato fries is rocket science: Throw some sweet potato pieces in an oven with some oil and you’re probably going to get something pretty tasty unless you burn them. There are a million oven-fried sweet potato recipes out there, and individual tastes vary so widely regarding fry thickness, crispness, brownness, etc. that there’s no way to claim this is as by any means the “best” approach. But it suits me, so here we go.

When initially struck by the sweet-potato-fry craving, I turned to Mollie Katzen’s recipe in The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without (Serious Eats has it online here). On the plus side, Katzen’s clever trick of finishing the fries in a low-temperature oven to dry them out and crisp them up ensured that the end results were distinctly fry-like, rather than just being roasted sweet potatoes in disguise. But the downside was significant: Scrupulously following Katzen’s ¼-inch sizing guidelines yielded fries that were much too thin for my taste. They were crispy all right, but verging on desiccated, with the same crunchy texture all the way through, whereas I like a good balance between crisp shell and tender interior. Their sweet potato flavor had subsided into the browned, anonymous taste of veggie chips. They weren’t necessarily unpleasant—except for the ones that got outright burnt, a hazard of too-thin pieces—but they didn’t quite satisfy my desire for sweet potato fries either.

For the next round, I tried a recipe from Pinch My Salt that featured a number of useful improvements. Leaving the skin on helped give a more rustic, fry-like flavor, texture, and appearance and perhaps a tiny bit of extra fiber, with the welcome side effect of simplifying the prep work. Even though it dirtied an extra bowl, tossing the fries with the oil (for some reason Katzen just oils the baking sheet, not the actual potatoes) helped immensely in making me feel like my fries had been actually fried, not just dried. The fries were thick enough to maintain their soft orange interiors and avoid burning. Still, at the end of the cooking time I found myself lowering the temperature and crisping them up a bit per Katzen’s method. And as for the rosemary-garlic paste, it was good, but not amazing enough for me to go through the extra effort every time; a lot of the added flavor got lost for me once the fries had browned.

So, in the end, I use Katzen’s oven temperatures with Pinch My Salt’s skin-on, slightly-larger, oil-and-salt-tossed method, but I use my own judgment as needed. I can be inconsistent in slicing my fries, so they vary somewhat in size (¼ inch is definitely too skinny, but sometimes ½ inch just looks too chunky, although it’s good to remember that the potatoes do shrink somewhat while baking), and inevitably some of them verge on too browned while others lean toward too soft, but I kind of like the variety—that way there’s something for every taste! And the majority of them are just right.

One final tip: These are plenty good plain, but if you want a dipping sauce, forget the ketchup. Sweet potato fries + barbecue sauce is where it’s at.

2 medium-large sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)
1 to 1½ tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil (optional, but helpful).

2. Scrub sweet potatoes and cut them lengthwise into (approximately) ½-inch-thick slices. Stacking two slices together, cut them into (approximately) ½-inch-thick strips.

3. Put the sweet potato strips into a large bowl with olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Toss well to coat. Arrange the fries on the baking sheet in a single layer.

4. Bake for 10 minutes, then use tongs or a spatula to turn the fries over, rotate the pan, and bake for another 10 minutes or until tender and browned. If you like softer fries, taken them out of the oven; if you prefer crisper ones, turn the heat down to 200 degrees and bake for up to 20 minutes more, until they have shrunk and dried a bit. Watch them closely during the whole baking process and be sure not to let them burn.

5. Remove fries from oven and salt to taste.

Serves: 2
Time: 35–45 minutes
Leftover potential: Poor, but not hopeless. These are best when fresh from the oven, and it’s rare that we have leftovers, but A has satisfactorily reheated them in the microwave the next day (although I'm sure the texture becomes more like roasted sweet potato than like fries), so do save them if you can’t finish them.

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