Do you ever have times when the most random, unimportant, and trivial things keep you awake at night? Nights when you lay in bed, restless, fidgeting, thoughts going round and round like the song whose lyrics you can’t quite remember or the name of that old friend from elementary school who moved away to Missouri only after you’d realized you were two kindred spirits destined to always know each other? It was a random thought like these that kept me tossing and turning after I thought I was tired enough to close my eyes and drift to the land of impossibly wonderful things – never-ending birthdays, taking flight without wings, and Blair Underwood. The thing keeping me up – when was the last time I’d had french fries at a restaurant.
I know there was a time in my life when I had what I generously refer to as discriminating fry standards. (I thought the best fries were found at the bottom of a brown paper sack, oily and covered in salt.) This was evidenced by the fact that wayward, renegade fries looking perfectly fine and whole even after many months playing hide and seek could be found in my car cushions. But it’s been many years since my car has made its way through a fast food drive-thru. (My fifteen-year-old self would be mystified if I’d only known since my fondest dream before I was of driving age was that, once granted with a license, I could go through a drive thru any time I pleased.)
It’s not that I have anything against french fries in particular. It’s just that the restaurants I currently frequent in my town don’t serve them. After seeing Super Size Me and reading Fast Food Nation, that put an end to my dinner-through-a-window, ketchup-in-packet days. After going vegetarian and then vegan, I’d rather not support them anyway. So on this night while I turned on my pillow, trying to imagine when I’d last had french fries in a restaurant, I searched the corners and recesses and unfolded menus in my mind. (FYI, it was at Father Nature in Pasadena over a year ago.)
Anyhoo, this is not to say that I never eat French fries. Quite the contrary. As the title of this post gave away, french fries are actually my secret weapon. James Bond has a magnetic wristwatch. Virgin Mary can shape shift onto toast. And Blair Underwood can make ‘em melt with his million dollar smile. However, I prefer to blindside them with spud spears. See, let’s say I’m making a raw kale salad for lunch or lentils with steamed broccoli for dinner. Some days that sounds perfectly, healthfully, deliciously wholesome. It sounds like it will get my gears going in the most energizing of ways. But some days, it makes healthy less than intoxicating. Sure, I could add a baked potato to the mix. After all, it has all of that diet food street cred. But on those days when the ideas of a salad are rather limp, I invite its infinitely more entertaining cousin, fries, to the party.
“But Cadry,” you say, “doesn’t throwing a handful or five of fries in a vat of bubbling oil kind of defeat the exercise of healthy eating?”
And I say, “Thank you for commenting.” But I also say, “Well, actually I’m speaking of baked fries.”
To that maybe you say, “Ugh. Baked fries. I had baked potato chips once and they were a lame and, indeed, hollow shadow of their fried selves.”
And to that I say, “My goodness, you have some very strong opinions about potatoes. I didn’t expect it to get this involved.” So now, ladies and gentlemen, let’s just ignore that fierce commenter over there and get on with this…
The key to making excellent baked potato french fries is using the right potato, a hearty russet, and unbleached parchment paper. I’ve tried using other potatoes, but IMO the russet really reigns supreme here. With parchment paper, just the tiniest amount of oil will do. A teaspoon of oil or two for a couple of russet potatoes will do fine. Cut the potatoes into fry shapes or pull out the crinkle cutter that one generally reserves for making old lady fancy radishes at the holidays and make chip-shaped fries. Lightly coat them in oil with a half teaspoon of paprika. Put them in the oven set at 420 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes, flip the fries, and then bake for ten minutes more. I prefer to serve them with a dash of salt and a squeeze of organic ketchup (because despite what people out to sell high fructose corn syrup say, it has no place mingling with my malt vinegar).
Try it for yourself on one of your less than virtuous days and when your family asks that inevitable question, “What’s for dinner?” You can say with enthusiasm, “Salad!” and then with added emphasis, “And baked french fries!”
To which they’ll say, “Baked? Aw, I had baked chips once and…”