(April 25, 2014) Sensing change can be unsettling for those who feast on certainty. Enlightenment comes in many flavors, but does one have the perception to distinguish the clues of fate? When ambiguity is emulsified with the present, I retreat to my comfort zone. The kitchen soothes my soul for food is my passion.
A new day beckons my quest for answers, food for thought is my purpose intended. Orange hues span the Eastern Shore. Enjoy the aura of tranquility, for it will eventually dissipate. Glorious sunshine makes its presence known; my sleepy eyes focus on a basket of sweet potatoes.
I am fascinated by their simplicity. Many interchange the terms “sweet potatoes” and “yams,” but the root vegetables are very different in their appearance and nutritious content. Sweet potatoes, unlike yams, contain large amounts of Vitamin A, calcium, iron, Vitamin E, and omega-3’s. Sweet potatoes possess an orange flesh whereas yams have a white, purple or reddish-flesh.
Time to open doors and allow fresh air to filter in beckons my call. The birds are in their glory, there is much catching up after a harsh winter. Honeysuckle smiles and bids bonjour. A cup of black-cherry yogurt is on the menu for breakfast. I must confess as I am munching away, my mind wonders to the subject of lunch. The thought of sweet potato fries is tantalizing indeed.
Potatoes are all about starch and water and the cooking method controls the reaction between the two. White potatoes and sweet potatoes are quite dissimilar and therefore cook very differently. The high-starch composition of russet potatoes makes them suited for frying. However, sweet potatoes contain less starch and in addition contain an enzyme that will convert some of the starch into sugar at certain temperatures. For those who are not a food scientist, what does this mean? Sweet potatoes do not exude much moisture. As a result, the outer coating is not able to steam which inhibits the crispness process.
Creating a light batter or slurry will solve this problem. The goal of frying is to dry, harden and brown the particular product. Hot oil causes moisture and air inside the batter to evaporate. Simultaneously, proteins within the batter will harden, making your batter crisp. While all this is going on, you are also browning both the proteins and carbohydrates, creating new flavorful and textural components.
Let us review the basics to come up with a solution. Using 100 percent flour will result in too much gluten; in other words, the crust will not have the most appealing presentation. Corn starch is pure starch, meaning that its protein content is essentially zero. Using 100 percent corn starch produces no gluten when combined with water, which yields little browning.
But if one were to add baking powder, a whole new dimension opens up. It raises the pH of the batter which in turn increases the browning capabilities. Baking powder also creates tiny air pockets that bubble up as it hits the hot oil which ensures a lighter, crispier coating. However, an over-baking-powdered batter bubbles up so much that it does not adhere to the item for consumption. The goal is to inflate the bubbles to maximum capacity without rupturing them. The general ratio is 1 teaspoon baking powder to approximately 1 cup of flour/corn starch. Consider replacing a portion of flour with corn starch; the rewards will receive rave accolades.
There is last one consideration; the size of the sweet potato fries. The low-starch sweet potatoes often burn before they crisp. Cutting them into larger fries helps the issue at hand. Sometimes solving a challenge creates a new one. The short time it takes to create texture will not be sufficient to cook the thick wedges all the way through. According to Cook’s Illustrated, blanching the fries in water first produces a creamy interior. Then fry the potatoes in oil which will obtain the crunchy exterior.
All of this talk about sweet potato fries has my mouth watering. If one has the obsession with the infamous, crunchy potatoes – consider sweet potato fries as a healthy alternative. If obesity is to be a thing of the past, let us consider making simple changes in our daily menu.
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup water plus 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon egg, beaten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Old Bay Seasoning, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges,
wedges cut in half at an angle
peanut oil for frying
1. Underline a wire rack with paper towels. Set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.
3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine water, beaten egg and oil.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and combine until well mixed. Set aside.
5. Bring 2 ½ quarts of water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Add potatoes and allow water to return to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer and cook until exterior turns slightly soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove fries and place in a colander to allow any excess water to drain off.
6. Heat peanut oil in a 12-inch nonstick pan over high heat to 325 degrees.
7. Whisk batter to recombine. Place fries in batter and coat entire surface.
8. Using tongues, carefully add small amounts of fries into the oil and cook until crispy. Do not overcrowd the pan with the sweet potato wedges. When the are done, place on cooling rack. Repeat this process until all of the fries are cooked.
9. While the fries are warm, toss in Old Bay, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately.
Secret Ingredient: Creativity. “Others have seen what is and asked why, I have seen what could be and asked why not.” Pablo Picasso