A French chef once explained to me that although he prided himself on from-scratch cooking, he never made fries in-house. “It’s impossible to do them right in a kitchen this size,” he said. He went on to explain that the only way to get a really great French fry was to soak the potatoes for at least 36 hours before frying. Essentially, all great fries (like all great food, in my biased opinion) are fermented before they’re fried. The fermentation process eliminates the risk of a harmful compound called acrylamide from forming during cooking and greatly improves the texture of the final fries. There are two options here, baked and deep-fried. Unsurprisingly, the fried version is greatly preferred by my friends and family, but the baked version does come out crispy and better than the vast majority of restaurant shoestring fries you’ll ever order. And like any great French fry, this is definitely not health food. Enjoy with ketchup or poached eggs and kale.
Yield: Approximately 20 fry nests
- 1 large sweet potato (2 pounds, or 900 g), spiralized, skin on
- 4 1/2 teaspoons (28 g) kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) filtered water
- 1 quart (940 ml) high-heat oil
- Place the sweet potatoes in a quart (1 L) jar.
- Mix the salt into water until dissolved and pour the brine into the jar, ensuring that there is a thin layer of brine over the sweet potatoes.
- Using your preferred method, submerge your veggies and cover your jar.
- Place your jar on a small plate or bowl and allow to ferment at room temperature for 5 to 7 days.
- Drain the liquid from the sweet potatoes and spread them out in a single layer on a large kitchen towel. Pat dry.
- Pour the oil into a 3-quart (2.7 L), heavy-bottomed pot and heat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). While you’re waiting for the oil to heat, continue patting the sweet potatoes dry. Pull them apart and pile them up so that each long strand becomes a little nest. There will be a few odds and ends. Those can be made into their own piles of similar size to the single-strand nests.
- Line a platter with paper towels.
- Once the oil temperature hits 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius), it’s time to start frying. Working in batches, use a spoon to lower each nest into the oil. Fry 3 or 4 nests at a time to avoid overcrowding. Fry for 45 seconds to 1 minute. If they’ve started browning, they’ve gone too long. Use a slotted spoon to remove them and place them on the paper towels.
- Allow the temperature to return to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) before frying the next batch. Repeat until all of the potatoes have been fried. The oil can be reused for other purposes for several days.
Variations: Add the zest of 1 small lemon and 2 teaspoons of dried sage leaves to the jar before adding the sweet potatoes for fermentation. Discard the seasonings before frying.
For baked nests: Toss the drained sweet potatoes with 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) of olive or melted coconut oil. Separate into nests and bake them on parchment paper at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius, or gas mark 6) for 15 minutes or until crispy.
Also from Ferment Your Vegetables:
Reprinted with permission from Ferment Your Vegetables: A Fun and Flavorful Guide to Making Your Own Pickles, Kimchi, Kraut and More by Amanda Feifer and published by Quarto, 2015.