april 9, 2016
My buddy and project partner in culinary school was affectionately nicknamed Duck Fat. Not only did Jason love its taste and texture, he found ways to incorporate the creamy white fat into nearly everything. Within reason, of course.
These days, Jason Stum is the owner of the successful Maryland catering company My Thyme , making beautiful and tasty food with love, and growing a lovely family with his wife Kara. I loved working with him and catching his positive spirit, and admiring his super creative way with food. These days I don’t render my own duck fat; a nice tub can be had from our local Belmont Butchery. It keeps well in the freezer, defrosting quickly for those times when potatoes or root vegetables need roasting . Rendered duck fat may also be purchased from Whole Foods Grocery and some Asian supermarkets.
French fries, home fries or roasted potatoes are the perfect natural partner to burgers and steaks, and they make a nice breakfast. On that latter note, I am not kidding. My neighborhood breakfast buddies and I have been known to say “nevermore” to breakfast joints that do not offer potatoes with the morning meal. What kind of self-respecting diner or dive can’t make potatoes?
If you have a craving at home, it may seem like way too much trouble to haul out a deep fryer or use a modified fryer with several inches of oil in a stovetop pot. Also, messy and dangerous are other terms that come to mind. What’s a potato aficionado to do? Oven fries! Easier than you think and much less messy (especially if you use parchment paper, as I did with this recipe), baking your fries in the oven has only one drawback : you must wait for them to finish cooking.
I like my potatoes cut in thick batons, with lots of creamy interior and nicely browned outsides. Super skinny fries like those served at fast food chains cool down way too quickly for my taste and mostly what I taste is oil and not potato. For this recipe, cut the potatoes thick if you like steak fries or into skinny shoestring strands if you like, but adjust the cooking times accordingly. I cut off the tapered russet potato ends and cut lengthwise ovals, then each oval into batons about one third inch around. Save those waxy or creamy potatoes for gratins and mashing and use large, long russet baking potatoes for the best oven fries.
Presoaking the potatoes to remove excess starch and guarantee the perfect level of crisp is the ideal. The practical is to skip this step and perform a couple of tricks. Preheat the sheet pan, avoid overcrowding and coat with just enough fat to impart flavor. Use your best salt to season after cooking to recreate the restaurant experience of fine pinpoints of salty kick instead of overall saltiness from seasoning at the beginning. Cook just until golden brown, since overcooking will lead to tough fries. Lastly, enjoy your fries right away since making ahead and reheating is not an option and time wasted means cold, stiff french fries. If duck fat is not an option, you can make these homemade french fries with extra virgin olive oil.
Duck Fat Fries
makes two to four servings
two long russet potatoes, about 12 ounces each, 1.5 pounds total
1 ½ tablespoons duck fat
fine sea salt – I like La Baleine for the clean taste
equipment : parchment paper, heavy aluminum sheet pan (don’t use insulated pans!)
- Place unlined sheet pan in oven and preheat to 425 degrees; allow 15-20 minutes until cook time even if buzzer sounds “ready”.
- To soften duck fat, place in small glass dish and microwave about 10 seconds.
- Cut tips off potatoes (optional – I like the ends squared off), then cut lengthwise into ovals about one third inch thick, then cut each oval into batons about one third inch around.
- When oven is ready, toss potatoes in large mixing bowl with melted duck fat, remove pan from oven and line with parchment sheet, then spread out potatoes, in a single layer, being careful not to crowd them.
- Skipping the parchment may mean potatoes sticking to the pan and not evenly browning.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then use spatula to flip potatoes, and bake for another 15 minutes.
- Lightly sprinkle salt on fries and serve immediately.