Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Laid-Back Snack: Miso-Mustard Pommes Allumettes

1 comment:

Sounds fancy, eh?

It's not. These are just matchstick potatoes -- dressed up, deep-fried, and enhanced with a big hit of savory awesomeness.

A lot of people are scared of frying things at home. Limp, soggy, oil-logged homemade potato chips, piles of fried chicken that were left burnt on the outside and raw in the middle; we've all been there. And then, of course, there's the small issue of not starting a grease fire in your house. I can see why lots of people figure learning how to deep-fry things is not worth it. This being said, the truth of the matter is, with two elements of technique -- some simple knifework and careful attention to frying temperatures -- making matchstick potatoes is so fast, easy, and delicious that you'll be whipping them up and passing them off as "pommes allumettes" before you know it.

[Legal Disclaimer: While we feel the risk involved in cooking this is minimal, this recipe does involve the use of sharp knives and very hot oil. Burning Pasta is not responsible for any injuries or damage that might occur from your attempts to make it.]

Miso-Mustard Pommes Allumettes
Serves 4

Three large baking potatoes or red potatoes
(Yukon Gold are too starchy for this)

1 Liter High-Protein Cooking Oil
(more on this below)

The Sauce:

2 Tablespoons Hot Chinese or Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons Yellow Miso Paste
1 Teaspoon Cracked Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Mirin or White Wine
1 Tablespoon Honey
Water to thin
Salt to taste
Fresh chopped scallions (as garnish)
Capers (optional)
Like I said, this recipe is all about attention to detail. The vast majority of the work -- chopping the potatoes and making the sauce -- can be (and really should be) done long before your oil ever starts heating up.

The largest stumbling block is getting uniform, small, thin slices of potato. While you could use a mandoline, why clutter up your kitchen with more junk? A sharp knife and a little patience is all you need. You don't even need a peeler! Here's how you do it:

Start by cutting off any sprouting eyes and other unpleasant blemishes. On one of the "long" sides (not the end), cut off a small slice of the potato. This will flatten it and make the potato easier to work with.

Spotting the potato with one hand, make long slices down the length of the potato, trying to get them as thin as possible. I say as thin as possible because that will probably result in the proper thickness of 1/4 inch. Remember, this is not a race. Get it right, go slowly, don't slice off your fingertips. You're doing this the morning before you serve them, right? Maybe even the night before? You did that so you wouldn't be in a rush, like I suggested, right? Of course you are.

At a certain point, the remaining potato will get too thin to chop safely. You have two choices here. Either toss it out, and cry over the wasted two cents of potato, or place the large flat surface of the cut potato face down on the board, put your hand on the top of the potato, and continue slicing with a horizontal motion.

At this point, you should have a big stack of large, thin potato slices. Using your spacial recognition skills (and your opposable thumbs), make piles of like-sized chips, small, medium, and large. Go ahead and slice each pile lengthwise into matchstick-like shapes. Again, you want to cut these about as thinly as you can. If you're not comfortable holding a big stack of slippery potato slices in your hand in such proximity to a big knife, either wrap your hand in a towel first, or use smaller stacks of slices. This isn't rocket science.

Hey, the hard part is over! If things went well, you should have a giant pile of julienned potato and all of your fingers. Making these is a great way to practice knife skills, and you'll only get better by repetition. Trust me, when you get good at this, you'll be able to process all of those potatoes in less time than it took to read about it.

From here, we need to rinse as much starch out of the potato -- get a big bowl that will hold everything, dump the potato into it, stir with your hands to mix everything up, and let it sit for 10 minutes. When that's done, change the water and place the bowl into the fridge until you're ready to get frying.

[Editor's Note: If you're ready to fry now, just let the bowl sit on the counter while you make the sauce.]

Sauce time!

Dump everything but the water, salt, and scallions into a bowl. Whisk. Add water until the paste comes to your desired thickness. Taste. Add salt to achieve your desired saltiness. Taste again. Put in fridge until 10 minutes before you're ready to serve (this is when you'll be adding the scallions). Easy enough?

Time to fry. Seeing how you did all of the above deep-prep hours ago, the rest of this should be a snap.

You may not realize how important selecting the right kind of oil is -- a bad choice will ruin a good batch of fries as much as frying them at the wrong temperature will. Don't panic, though. All you need to remember is a simple formula -- the more protein in your oil, the crispier the fry.

Why does the protein principle work? Honestly, I don't really care. It just does, and that's what matters. Regular old vegetable oil (what most people try to use) has been refined to blandness, stripped of the few good, delicious, crispiness making compounds it had in the first place. No protein...bad fries. On the other end of the scale, rendered lard and beef fat have tons of protein; and yes, they make delicious fries. [Duck-fat fries are popular these days too.] These kinds of things can make your heart explode, however. If you don't mind taking a few days off of your life in the name of gastronomy, go for it. For everybody else, a happy medium can be found. I prefer to use peanut oil, myself, although pure corn oil will do in a pinch as well.

Using a high-walled pot (high-walled is important), pour about three or four inches of your chosen oil into it. Snap a candy/frying thermometer, to the side, crank up the heat, and keep an eye on things while you get the potatoes ready.

Prepare a cutting board with a few layers of paper towels or cloth toweling. Drain your potatoes in a colander, rinsing them with water from the tap. Shake as much water out here as you can -- you want to get these as dry as possible. Transfer the potatoes to the toweling, and pat them dry as well as you can.

Back at the stove, preheat your oven to about 250, and get a cookie sheet ready, lined with more toweling.

As for the oil, we're going to want to get the temperature up to 375 degrees F. You'll want to take some caution from here on out -- wear long sleeves, use pot holders when near the pot, protect your eyes, and NEVER leave the room while the flame is on. Remember that oil is very flammable, especially when heated, and that the introduction of the potatoes will cause the oil to bubble up in volume; if you ignored our warning to use a high-walled pot, turn the flame off, let the oil cool down, and start following directions, you ninny.

For the rest of you, once you've reached 375, and you're satisfied with how dry the potatoes are, take a reasonably sized handful of julienned potatoes, and slowly -- very slowly -- start sprinkling them into the oil. It will bubble up impressively, and we don't want a "boilover" here. Continue to add the handful slowly, ensuring that the oil stays in the pot.

From here, we're going to want to keep an eye on things. Use a slotted spoon or wire strainer to occasionally break up clumps -- the potatoes may want to stick together initially. Knowing when they're cooked is more a matter of color than time. You're going to want the potatoes deep golden to medium brown. This will probably happen in about five to seven minutes, but don't rush it. The appearance will be your best guide here.

Transfer the batch out of the oil onto the waiting cookie sheet. Add a pinch of salt, and pop the whole thing into the oven to keep warm.

Next, and this is important -- wait for your oil to get back up to 375! This is critical. The rest of the fries will stay warm, so there's no rush (in fact, you can fry off your potatoes a good hour or two before your first guest arrives; the oven keeps them in great shape). Repeat the frying process until all the potatoes are cooked, making sure the last batch spends at least five minutes in the oven to dry and set.

Arrange artfully, sprinkle the scallions over the sauce, and serve.

Now, maybe this seems like too much work to you. Yeah, it does take a bit more labor than your average cocktail nibble, but they're worth making for the right people. This is relationship food; people build connections reaching into a communal bowl of these over a late, long night. It's the kind of thing you serve to the guests you already know you like, the kind of friends who come over for an easy night of red wine, outlandish stories, and bad movies. I bet, if you think about it, you already know who to make these for. I'll leave you to it.

Music: Aesop Rock -- "Spare A Match"

1 comment:

  1. This loooks dangerous. But I love all things potato (not to mention living on the edge) so one day I'm sure I'll try this.


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