I have not been cooking much home as of late. Travel does that. We just got back from our last trip to Patagonia. We took off for the weekend to stay at a newish hotel, Tierra Patagonia, and immerse ourselves in those southerly wind blown lands again. They cast a spell every time. Door-to-door it took us ten hours of taxis, planes, and vans from Santiago but it was worth every moment. Savoring the silence, the crystalline air, condors soaring above, and nature in her most exalted form. Such grandeur always gives pause and makes me deeply thankful for earth’s beauty and untouched corners. Plus, trekking with views of 40 million years old mountains and glaciers is pretty cool.
Between trips, I crave homey foods. Potatoes are at the top of the list. I am going to come clean. I am a closet French fry junkie. Most of the time, I control myself, eating healthily but there just those moments when I cave in. Often they appear when ordering steak tartare, or dosed in truffle salt or oil. Papas fritas, as they are called in Spanish, are just darn tasty. Chileans and Peruvians particularly have a devotion to the spud as we have dozens of varieties of native potatoes here. Many potato lovers actually refer to themselves as paperos, potato people. Potatoes show up in all types of dishes, but the most ordered are French fries, usually coming in mountain-like portions. In fact, this is a culture where it’s perfectly acceptable to count French fries in the “vegetable” family while ordering rice on the side as your starch.
Since I am not going to waste precious calories on any old papas fritas, I had to devise my own method to satisfy that hankering without making it a total health bomb. Were crunchy on the outside and tender oven frites possible? I didn’t know but suspected they had to be! After much research followed by some trial and error, I hit it. This recipe reveals the findings so other closet French Fry junkies can take solace in eating a healthier version at home. The key? Soaking the potatoes in water for 30-60 minutes to leach out the excess starch, and then drying well before roasting in a very hot oven.
While you can certainly use red-skinned potatoes, I mixed it up with native potatoes from Chiloé and addictive sweet potato to make a colorful potato potage. Cut them long like fries or cut them into cubes as I did, or do both. Or instead of olive oil, I l-o-v-e these with extra virgin coconut oil and tossed in some spices like cumin and merkén. There are no rules, just your own creativity. I served these for a simple brunch with my in-laws and they were an instant hit. They go perfectly with grilled fish, meat, or tossed into a leafy green salad. Of course, they hold their own with a piquant Peruvian chili sauce or my favorite, homemade ketchup. After over thirteen years here, I am still loyal to ketchup. It’s a gringo thing I suppose.
- 6 large potatoes, with skin on and scrubbed (or use a mixture of smaller native potatoes, sweet potato, and fingerlings)
- Large bowl with water, non-reactive 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (green and peppery please!)
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450F.
Prepare a tray for the oven using heavy duty aluminum foil. Spray with oil to avoid sticking. Or use good Teflon baking sheets.
Cut the potatoes either in half length-wise and then into quarters, or cute into cubes of equal size so they cook evenly. In a bowl, combine the water with the white vinegar and soak potatoes for 30-60 minutes. Drain completely and dry thoroughly with clean kitchen towel.
In another bowl, add the potatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix well. I like to “massage” the potatoes with my bare hands to make sure every millimeter is covered with oil and salt. Plus, it works wonders for a cook’s cuticles if you don’t soap all the oil off.
Once “massaged”, place the potatoes on the prepped oven sheet in one layer. Read that again. One layer. This is key for them to crisp on each side, otherwise you end up with steamed potatoes and that is not the idea (in this recipe at least). The papitas should be crunchy. There should be noise when you bite into them. Bake for 20 minutos. Flip them to the other side and bake for another 15-20 minutes until very crisp and golden but tender on the inside.
Roughly 4-6 portions.