15 November 2010

Food Lab 6: Potatoes

We had originally planned to do a two day lab making homemade sausage, but Chef Spouse had to work Sunday and Mad Kitchen Scientist and The Executive Committee had a commitment, too, so we decided that we'd bust out the IA-By-Day Chefs-By-Nights' deep fryer and take on potatoes.

Conclusion 1: I NEED a deep fryer. Are you listening, Santa?

Conclusion 2: Mix 6 people who like to experiment in the kitchen, booze, a deep fryer full of hot peanut oil, and a bowl of simple baking powder batter, and all kinds of insanity is likely to result. "What can we batter and deep fry?" "What CAN'T we batter and deep fry?"

Following our usual practice, we gathered, pulled out all the supplies, made cocktails (bloody marys of course, with vodka which of course is made from potatoes), sat down with the snacks, and figured out the plan.

What we arrived on was:
  1. Hash browns
  2. Fries
  3. Chips
  4. Stuff Covered In Batter (more on that later)
We had the traditional russet potatoes, Yukon golds, and sweet potatoes, plus olive oil, peanut oil, and bacon fat (from the bacon we cooked to snack on). We never did use the olive oil, as emptying the deep fryer proved impractical, and once we started on doing the hash browns in bacon fat, we all agreed that there was really no reason to try anything else.

Chef Spouse was the hash brown guy, and I ended up Queen of the Deep Fryer

On the hash browns, we labbed each option with both the russets and the Yukon golds. Russets are traditional for most potato frying applications, but we agreed that in most cases, the Yukon golds were superior in taste and texture. Chef Spouse captured it best: "Yukons remind you of brunch, russets remind you of camping."

First trial was to grate raw potatoes, spread them widely/very thin, and fry in bacon fat. Didn't really work - the potatoes didn't seem to cook evenly and were almost impossible to flip. We did better keeping them more in a potato pancake configuration, but we didn't really start cooking with gas (so to speak) until we parboiled whole potatoes, then grated them, then dried them, then cooked them in more the pancake configuration in bacon fat for about 15 minutes (until golden and crispy).

Once we realized the parboil was the key, we tried going the other way - grating first, then parboiling for 10 seconds, then ice shocking, then drying (as best we could - there was a LOT of water still in there, though), then cooking the potatoes in bacon fat for 15 minutes. They weren't as crispy as the parboiled whole potatoes (almost definitely because we couldn't get the water out), but they were still better than the grated potatoes that went in the pan raw. We also tried coating the raw potatoes with potato starch to see if we could duplicate the effect of parboiling without actually parboiling. No go.

Conclusion? Your best bet is to parboil Yukon golds, cool them, grate them, dry them, and then cook them in the hot bacon fat you have on hand from making your bacon (we are, after all, talking about breakfast here). But that takes a lot of time. So if you don't want to get up at the crack of dawn, grating and then parboiling for 10 seconds before frying in bacon fat is an acceptable solution.

Queen of the Deep Fryer?

Let me cut to the chase: there's a reason the double fry in peanut oil is the classic way to make French fries. We tried a single fry at a high temp, we tried a single fry at a lower temp, we tried parboiling the potatoes first. Yeah, don't even bother. 3 minutes at 300 degrees, drain while the oil temperature comes up, 5ish minutes at 360 degrees = French fry perfection. Both the russets and the Yukon golds worked well. The russets had the traditional floury texture, the Yukon golds were more buttery, but you MUST double fry. No excuses, no exceptions.

Did I mention that The Executive Committee made dipping sauces? A roasted red pepper (her take on ketchup), aioli, a spicy yogurt cilantro, and a cream cheese, scallion and bacon. All delish, but I thought the yogurt cilantro was particularly good.

Chips: well, unsurprisingly, we discovered that double frying was the best here, too. One tip? Your chips MUST be of a consistent thickness. The taste difference between the russets and the Yukon golds was not nearly as noticeable once we moved onto chips. And this was when we broke out the sweet potatoes. Sweet potato chips? Awesome. Sweet potato chips with the spicy yogurt cilantro dip? Even awesomer.

By this point, we'd all had a few cocktails, and Mama IA-By-Day Chef-By-Night had mixed up a batter for deep fried pickles. And sweet potato chips. And Snickers bars (yes really). And - ultimate triumph - bananas sprinkled with cinnamon palm sugar.

The thing that I learned about deep frying in general is that you have to gently slide the items into the fryer by hand from close up (which always looks so dangerous when I see it on cooking shows, but it really is better - good control and no splashing), you can't put too many in, and you need to keep an eye out to make sure the items aren't sticking to each other or the fry basket. That goes triple once you include batter in the mix. And the battered items will want to stick to EVERYTHING, so have a variety of metal tools handy to use to pry things apart.

So the pickles were decent. The Snickers bars were hard to fry - even though we froze them before battering and frying, they kept melting. The sweet potato chips ended up very tempura-like, even without panko bread crumbs in the batter.

But the bananas? The bananas were SOOO good. How good were they? They were so good Mad Kitchen Scientist decided he needs a deep fryer just so he can make them. They were that good

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