Potatoes and Other Starches

Oh how I love the potato! I know it isn't healthy and Atkins would not be pleased, but what a tasty member of the vegetable kingdom!

Pomme Frites

We begin with the King of the Potatoes, the Pomme Frites, Pappas Fritas, or as we Americans call them, "French Fries." Oddly, they were invented not in France, but in Belgium where they're called by the name "Freitkok". Hercule Poirot would understand the confusion the rest of the world has on meeting anything Belgian and deciding immediately it must be French. This recipe shows how to correctly double fry the potatoes, which is essential in achieving the optimal flavors and textures.

Who knew, by the way, that French Fries, aka Pomme Frites in French, were not even invented by the French?!?? It turns out the Belgians have the honor. They're served as a snack food by small vendors known as "Frietkok" (Fry Shack), in a little paper cone as shown with a dollap of creamy Mayonaise on top. Yum!

Ingredients

Potatoes

Peanut Oil

Salt and Pepper

Preparation

Cut the potatoes into 1/4" by 1/4" strips. You can leave the skin on or off as desired, but don't cut them any thinner. Thicker fries absorb less grease. Rinse the potatoes under cold water until the water runs clear. Put them in a large bowl, fill to cover with cold water, and add ice on top. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oil to 325 degrees F. Pat the potatoes dry, and fry them in the oil, a handful at a time. Too many fries will cool the oil too much. Cook them 6 or 8 minutes, until they're blond in color, and then remove them from the oil to drain on paper towels for at least 10 minutes up to 2 hours. While they drain would be a good time to do the steaks!

Just before serving the fries, heat the oil to 350 degrees F. Fry a second time, all at once if you prefer, until they are golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to a paper lined platter, salt and pepper, and serve immediately!

We like to use our Rotofryer for the frying as it uses a bit less oil than the traditional method of using a big stock pot. There's also a bit less drama. I remember one poker party where the host let his stock pot of hot oil boil over and we had a little grease fire. His wife was very upset, but his kitchen remodel turned out beautifully!

Tartiflette

While we're on the subject of things bad for you and vaguely connected to the French, I must present my Tartiflette, which I often refer to as "Stinky Cheese Potatoes All Rotten."

Tartiflette is a French version of Potatoes au gratin from the Haute Savoie region of Burgundy. It's hard to beat this dish as a side for comfort food. Even our kids pronounced it Tres Magnifique! Of all the things I make, this one has guests coming back the most often for seconds and thirds. It keeps well in the fridge (making for a wonderful microwavable hot lunch all by itself). The first week we discovered the recipe, we made 3 pans of it and had to ban it for a month just to regain control of ourselves before it was too late!

Ingredients

6 ounces of bacon cut into 1/4 by 1/2 inch pieces
9 ounces of large white button mushrooms cut into 1/4 inch slices
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 1/2 cups smelly cheese (I used Muenster and Romano to good effect, the stronger the cheese, the better)
2 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees

In a skillet, saute the bacon until it is crisp and brown, about 5 minutes. Drain on a paper towel.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat and saute the mushrooms in the remainder until the brown, another 5 minutes.

Generously butter a 9 by 13 inch baking pan. Layer half the potatoes in the pan. Cover with all the bacon, all the mushrooms, and half the cheese. Salt and pepper. Add the other half of the potatoes. Sprinkle half the remaining cheese, and add the cream until it just covers the potatoes.

Bake for 60 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Remove from oven and cover with the remaining cheese. Put it back in until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Let sit, covered in foil, for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Rosemary Potato Crisps

Okay, I admit it. The above two dishes are fantastic, but can be a little bit much. What can we do that's a little lighter, perhaps for a brunch setting or when we are otherwise already eating too much? Try these homemade potato-chip-like beauties!

12 small unpeeled red potatos sliced 1/16" thin
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
6 turns freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Toss the potato slices in a bowl with the oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper.

Lay them out on a cookie sheet and cook for 15 minutes. Turn with a spatula and cook another 15 minutes.

Serve in a bowl lined with paper napkins or a towel. Keep covered so they stay warm.

These also make great snacks or party food, coming out slightly less crisp than potato chips. The Andalusian Chicken gravy is wonderful over them too.

Rice Pulao (Pilaf)

This is a rich and flavorful rice dish suitable for a lot of different meals.

Ingredients

2 1/2 to 3 cups hot chicken stock
generous pinch of saffron threads
1/4 cup of butter
1 onion, chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
1 cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods (note, pods are like seeds)
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups basmati rice, soaked for 30 minutes
1/3 cup soltanas (golden raisins)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup cashew nuts

Heat the chicken stock and then stir in the saffron threads. We just microwave the stock in a glass measuring cup. Heat the butter in a pan and fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon stick, cardamoms, and bay leave, and cook for 2 more minutes. Dain the rice and add to the pan. Cook stirring for 2 minutes more. Pour in the saffron stock and add the sultanas. Bring to the boil, stir, then lower the heat, cover and cook gently until the rice is tender; about 10 minutes. Note that it may take longer, and you may need to add more chicken stock. Just keep going until the rice has the right texture, waiting for it to absorb the liquid each time. While the rice is cooking with the stock, heat the oil in a wak and fry the cashew nuts until lightly browned. Be careful--they cook fast! Garnish the rice with the nuts.

Jamaican Rice and Peas (Red Beans and Rice)

2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2-inch piece ginger, unpeeled, crushed with a mallet or the side of a knife
10 whole allspice berries
5 oz. (3/4 cup) dried red kidney beans, picked over and rinsed
1 can (about 14 oz.) coconut milk
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 scallion, root trimmed
2 cups raw long-grain rice
1 fresh Scotch bonnet chile or habanero

Tie the garlic, ginger, and allspice berries in a small cheescloth pouch.

In an ovenproof pot, combine the pouch, beans, coconut milk, and 3 cups of water.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the beans are soft, 1-1/4 to 2 hours.

If necessary, add more water during cooking to keep the beans covered.

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Add the salt, pepper, thyme, and scallion to the beans.

Add the rice and enough water to cover the rice by about 1 inch (about 2 cups).

Bring to a boil and add the whole chile; don’t break, crack, or cut the chile.

Cover and bake until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Remove the chile, thyme sprigs, scallion, and ginger-garlic pouch before serving.

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All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.