There are good reasons for me to eat sweet potatoes – like these science-y ones in this blog post about women’s health and carbohydrates, or these no-nonsense tips from Neely Quinn at Paleo Plan, or these facts about how nutritious these tubers can be.
But you know the real reason I like to eat sweet potatoes?
They are freakin’ delicious.
But sweet potato fries are so often disappointing. I can work a basket of french fries like it’s a high-paying job with full benefits and a generous vacation package, but anytime I’ve tried to make sweet potato fries at home, they’ve been kind of flabby and limp. At restaurants, they either taste way too much like the junky canola oil they were fried in, or they’re suspiciously crispy – which usually means they’ve been rolled in flour before deep frying, rendering the naturally awesome sweet potato a dangerous gluten bomb.
But my friends, I’ve made some breakthroughs on oven-baked sweet potato fries. Before you dig into the recipe, here are a few tips to ensure that you get the crispy, irresistible fries you crave:
1. Use Japanese sweet potatoes. You know that I’m all about the “You Know How You Could Do That” variations, but some recipes require you to not monkey around with them too much. This is one of those recipes. (Although there is some “You Know How You Could Do That” fun at the end). You maybe be tempted to ask me if varieties other than Japanese sweet potatoes will work, and I must ask you to abstain. I didn’t test all varieties of sweet potatoes, but I did try the regular ol’ orange sweet potatoes (usually jewel or garnets) carried in most grocery stores, and they were too wet and not nearly starchy enough. Here’s the thing: sweet spuds are cheap and kitchen experimentation is fun. If you’re curious, you can always try other varieties and see what happens; I just can’t guarantee you’ll get the same results as this recipe. (Here’s more on Japanese sweet potatoes, in case you’re not familiar.)
2. Set expectations appropriately. Please keep in mind that white potato french fries get super crunchy because they’re very starchy and are surrounded by boiling-hot fat while they cook. These sweet potato fries are baked in the oven. They do get crisp, but they don’t get “white potato french fry” crisp. Set expectations appropriately, and you will be very happy with these. (And yes, you could deep-fry these, but I’m not a deep-fry kind of person. I’m not afraid of fat, but I’m not swimming in it, either.)
3. Use a wire rack. Yes, you really should use the wire rack in the instructions. I know that needing extra kitchen equipment is sometimes a pain, but you probably cook and eat at home a lot. It’s worth the investment in yourself and yummy food. Plus, you can get two racks for about $7 – and they’re super handy for lots of kitchen chores.
4. Use the microwave. I know some people have concerns about microwaving food, and it’s not the most elegant cooking method, but it serves an important purpose in this recipe. Microwaves suck the moisture out of food, and removing some of the moisture from the sweet potatoes is what makes them crispy. If you’re concerned about microwaving, listen to the first few minutes of this podcast from Robb Wolf in which he explains why it’s OK. (If you don’t care about the science, but just want the conclusion, here you go: “But the long and short of it is, don’t worry about microwaving….”)
UPDATE: I’ve been getting questions about what to do if you don’t have a microwave; here’s the deal. The fries won’t get as crisp without the microwave because nuking them helps remove some of the moisture. They’ll still taste good – because sweet potatoes always taste good – but they probably won’t get as crispy. If you want to experiment, wash and cut up a potato into fry shapes, then spread the fries on a baking sheet and put them in the fridge overnight. The next day, toss them with coconut oil and follow the rest of the instructions; you might need to bake them a bit longer. The time in the fridge might help dehydrate them a little to make them crisper. I’ll test this technique soon and let you know how it goes.
Crispy, Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Makes: a pile | Prep 15 minutes | Cook 20-25 minutes
2 large-ish organic Japanese sweet potatoes — long and thin is better than short and fat
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper, then place a wire rack on top of the parchment.
2. Wash the sweet potatoes and scrub the skins to remove dirt, but don’t peel them. Poke each potato a few times with the tip of a paring knife, then loosely wrap each still-wet-from-the-washing potato in a paper towel and place in the microwave. Nuke for 8-9 minutes, until they’re tender to a gentle squeeze.
3. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool enough to handle; you can cheat by plopping them in the fridge. Worth noting: I nuked a bunch of spuds in advance, then stored them in the fridge until I was ready to make fries. That works, too, if you need to divide your kitchen time – or if you just want to be prepared for a sweet potato fry emergency.
4. When you can handle the potatoes without burning yourself, cut them into strips that are 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide. You want them pretty thin, but not like shoestring fries. I wanted to make my fries look pretty by cutting the strips the entire length of the potato, but the shorter ones got crispier, so if you don’t care about aesthetics, cut the potato in half crosswise before you start making the strips. (If you need some help visualizing how to cut fries, this video is pretty good, but his fries are way too wide for our recipe,. Make yours about half as thick and wide as his – and don’t peel your sweet potatoes!) Worth noting: As you cut the sweet potato, the strips might break. I know they don’t look as lovely, but that’s actually a good sign. It means the microwave did its job drying out the potato.
5. Place your fries in a large bowl, pour in 1 1/2 tablespoons of the melted coconut oil, and use a rubber spatula to gently toss the fries with the coconut oil. Transfer the fries to the wire rack, arrange in a single layer, and sprinkle generously with salt.
6. Slide the pan into the oven and bake 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, lightly brush the tops of the fries with the remaining coconut oil, and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes. This is where you need to pay attention! The fries need to bake long enough for the sugars to caramelize, but not so long they burn.
7. Remove from the oven and try not to burn your fingers while you sample them directly from the wire rack. Sprinkle with additional salt if you find that satisfrying. (Sorry!)
1. Use different fat!
I also tried these with duck fat, and they were heavenly — I’m sure that some pastured lard would be amazingly good, too. If you have Well Fed 2, you might want to brush the fries with Better Butter instead of coconut oil in step #6.
2. Add spices!
When you take the fries out of the oven to brush them with fat in step #6, you can also add additional seasonings: Ras el Hanout, cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne — or some of the blends from Well Fed 2, like Jerk Seasoning, Sunrise Spice, or Lebanese Seven-Spice Blend. You could also sprinkle these little babies with truffle salt when they’re done baking, and then someone might call you a genius.
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