Mars has one foot in winter and the other in spring. One day can be cold, dark and rainy, then the next day the skies are magically clear and the temperatures rise. The capricious and explosive weather makes it difficult to decide what to eat. Comfort food is the top priority in these changing times; this helps ease the transition.
There’s nothing more comforting than fries. However, our beloved fries can be dangerous to health. Restaurant fries are potato sticks immersed in oil that is heated to 365 degrees F for weeks or months. The oil breaks down (you won’t want to hear it) into toxic, muddy free radicals, many of which are absorbed by the potato.
Researchers from the University of Basque in Spain have found that at frying temperature, common cooking oils release toxic aldehydes which are air pollutants. To find out if the toxins remained in the food, they heated sunflower (smoke point 440 degrees F) and virgin or refined olive oil (smoke point 410 to 465 degrees F) in deep fryers at 375 degrees. F for 40 hours. Researchers have found that sunflower oil releases the most toxic aldehydes.
Conversely, olive oil, which is more concentrated in monounsaturated fatty acids, generates less toxic compounds less rapidly. They concluded in the journal Food Chemistry that toxic compounds released by fried foods in many vegetable and seed oils can significantly increase the risk of neurological degenerative diseases and a variety of different cancers.
There is a solution to our comfort food dilemma: oven frying. Dangerous fries can easily be turned into virtuous ones. Toss cut potatoes with seasonings/salt and olive oil. Spread on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet and roast the potatoes until crispy, brown and delicious. Since these oven fries are mixed with fresh olive oil and heated only once for a short time, they pose no health hazard. If you want to fry your potatoes, do it at home and use fresh oil each time.
Although potatoes are the most comforting fries, other root and tubercle vegetables like rutabagas, carrots, celeriac, turnips, parsnips and sweet potatoes provide an abundance of surprisingly flavorful fries. . It’s a great way to get friends and family to eat more vegetables.
It’s a win-win for everyone.
- Oven fries can be made in four different shapes: wedges, thick sticks, thin sticks or rings. Thinner shapes are sharper than thick.
- They can be made crispy and oil-free with frothy and beaten egg white, or crispy with a little oil.
- Oven fries can be seasoned and served with a dip such as mayonnaise or ketchup with chopped chipotle in adobo, yogurt, chutney, peanut sauce, salsa, or tahini- lemon.
- Peeling is optional. Use organic products if you don’t peel them and scrub well.
- Soak the cut potatoes in cold water for 15 minutes for a crispier fry. Drain and dry very well. (Undipped fries are still decently crispy.)
Root Vegetable Oven Fries
Oil and high heat are most important for making crispy baked fries. They lock in moisture and result in fries with a crispy exterior and creamy interior. Yukon Gold potatoes provide a tender, creamy texture. Experiment with other root vegetables like sweet potatoes, rutabaga, parsnips, turnips, celeriac and carrots. Cut each vegetable into the same sizes and shapes; roast separately.
For 4 to 6 people
2 pounds. root vegetables, washed or peeled and washed
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil or 1 large egg white, whisked until fluffy
1-1/2 t. sea salt or kosher salt
2 t. dried italian herbs
2 t. chilli powder and 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 to 2 t. garlic powder
1 to 2 t. curry powder
Preheat the oven to 450°F for the potatoes. Preheat to 400°F for sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, which contain more sugar and burn faster.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the vegetables into the desired shape:
- Wedges: Cut the medium potato or sweet potato in half lengthwise to get the two flatter halves. Lay one half on the cut side and slice lengthwise into 4 wedges; repeat with remaining potatoes. Put the potatoes in water while you slice them. (For more crispness, soak the potatoes 15 to 30 minutes while preparing the sauce.) Drain and pat the potatoes very dry in a kitchen towel.
- 1/2-inch-thick sticks: Slice a 1/2-inch-thick slice lengthwise from the side of a potato. Lay the potato on the cut side and cut the potato lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide sticks; repeat with remaining potatoes.
- 1/8-inch-thick sticks: Slice a 1/8-inch-thick slice lengthwise from the side of a potato. Lay the potato on the cut side and slice the potato lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into 1/8-inch-wide sticks; repeat with remaining potatoes.
- 1/4 inch rounds: Slice vegetables 1/4 inch thick across to produce “pieces”.
Dry the vegetables if they are wet. Place them in a large mixing bowl and toss with oil or egg white, salt and optional seasoning to coat. Spread the vegetables over the pans in a single layer, without touching. Place in the oven on the top or middle rack.
Using a spatula, turn the vegetables once, if desired, while they roast, 20 to 30 minutes depending on how crispy and browned you like them. Serve hot.
Nancy Krcek Allen has been a chef-educator for over 25 years and has taught professional and recreational courses in California, New York and Michigan. His culinary manual is called “Discovering Global Cuisines”.