We had friends for dinner on Saturday night and, for once, I did the sensible thing and cobbled together a menu full of tried and true recipes. We had these nuts, before dinner. We had a beef tenderloin recipe I’ve made a dozen times and which has quickly become one of my favorite dishes. We had a pile of garlic-y, spicy, braised Swiss chard. And we had oven fries, an evolution of an old recipe. I did make a new cake (which I wasn’t crazy about — serves me right), but it was capped with this frosting, which I’ve made over and over again.
Perhaps spurred on by this trip down culinary memory lane, I spent Sunday giving this site’s Recipe Index an overhaul. I had originally intended only to update the thing (which had fallen hopeless out-of-date), but I ended up giving it some reorganization and cosmetic changes, too. It’s incredible to look back on all that’s been cooked and baked in that kitchen of mine, and a few favorites—such as those that made an appearance on Saturday night—really stood out.
All this got me thinking about those recipes you turn to time and again. They become a dependable luxury: there’s no fear of failure, no fear of mediocre results, no fear of the unexpected. Instead, they give you a comfort and a confidence. They provide the freedom to experiment, to refine, to perfect.
Those Saturday night recipes all fit in this category. I like the cashews with a bit more heat and slightly more sugar than the original recipe calls for, so I’ve adjusted the recipe to suit my tastes over the years. And I prefer a more liberally-sauced tenderloin than the recipe yields, so I often halve the beef, while making a full batch of the sauce. And there’s ease too—I could make that chard in my sleep, at this point, and I’m certain I could whip up that frosting with my eyes closed.
The oven fries, though, are perhaps the best example of a recipe that I’ve relied on repeatedly since I began cooking, making changes, little by little. Over time, the recipe has slowly morphed to the point where it bears almost no resemblance to the original. Happily so, too, because it’s absolutely perfect now.
I’ve discovered several keys to making oven fries that achieve the goal: a close approximation to the real, deep-fried deal. First, the thinner the better. This is not the place for big, rustic potato wedges—instead, think oversized matchsticks, as uniform as you can get them. The second key is very high heat: I bake these at 475 degrees for almost an hour.
The third is parchment paper. Use it to line the baking sheet to ensure that the potatoes don’t fuse themselves to the pan. Fourth: salt. More salt than you think you need. When you think you’ve salted adequately, add more salt, because these are potatoes, people. And not just that, but potatoes in the style of French fries, which is to say a well-salted form of the potato. A bit of freshly-cracked black pepper is nice too. Fifth, arrange the fries in a single layer. Generally, I’m all for tossing root vegetables in oil and throwing them haphazardly onto a baking sheet, but doing so in this case will ensure limp, soggy results.
Finally: do not disturb. Do not flip the fries, or stir the fries, or shake the pan. Let the fries do their thing in the oven’s heat. They’ll become well browned and crisp and the outsides, nearly charred in spots. The middles will go soft and pillow-y—the exact French fry interior that you’re after.
From there, all you need do is enjoy. For the ketchup-averse, like me, serve them straight up:
For the ketchup-crazed (Kevin’s) of the world, serve with a little pot of ketchup:
Don’t forget to check out the made-over Recipe Index!
2 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
1/4 cup grapeseed (or other neutral) oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly-cracked black pepper, optional
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Working one potato at a time, slice the potato into 1/4-inch slabs. Stack the slabs and slice them into 1/4-inch batons. (See photos, above.) Once the potatoes are cut, transfer them to a gallon size Ziploc bag. Add the oil and salt to the bag, seal the bag, and shake to coat the potatoes with oil and salt. Spread the oiled/salted potatoes onto the prepared baking sheet, arranging the potatoes in a single layer. Sprinkle the potatoes with freshly-cracked pepper, if desired.
Bake the potatoes for 45 minutes to 1 hour (until the potatoes are well-browned and just charred in spots). Do not disturb the potatoes while they bake.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with additional salt (to taste — this might not be necessary). Serve hot.