The temptations of oven fries are many and multiple. If making fries for any number of people above two or three, it saves a considerable bit of time and effort to simply toss your cut potatoes in a bit of oil and throw them in the oven rather than standing over a pot of boiling oil with a wire spoon, laying out batch after batch on paper towels, and perfuming your home with the lovely scent of hot grease. Oven fries require only a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to get going, which is a boon for cooks who don’t fry often and may not have large quantities of oil on hand. There is also the perception, of course, that baked fries are “healthy.” While they’re a good way off from eating celery sticks, you can bet that a health-conscious dinner crowd that may shy away from eating too many “greasy fries” will pick up their enthusiasm over oven fries.
But oven fries always seem like a great idea–until it comes time to eat them. In the past, every time I’ve tried to make oven fries following the simple two-step recipe (i.e. toss cut potatoes in oil and seasoning, roast in oven on a baking sheet) they turned out mushy and limp. I arranged them in a single layer, sliced them more thinly, raised the oven temperature–to no avail. Every time I picked up a fry it would slump over like a wilted flower. Or, it would be blasted by the heat into a hard hollow shell.
After much conflicting and faulty advice from the internet, I turned to Cook’s Illustrated and its test kitchen. Through tireless trial and error as well as a good dash of science, our friends at CI have perfected a technique for crispy oven fries. I followed their recipe, tweaking it slightly and adding sweet potatoes to the mix, and the fries came out pleasantly crunchy on the outside and moist and fluffy on the inside. The secret is a simple one: parboiling the cut potatoes first. This adds an extra step, but it is painless and clean. And in classic Cook’s Illustrated aversion to dirtying dishes, this recipe requires only one pot.
Tips that are sure to help your fries come out crispy: preheat the baking sheets, and grease them so the fries don’t stick and burn. Use russet potatoes, which will give that fluffy perfect-fry texture due to a high starch content. Make sure to layer the fries in a single layer, no touching, and turn each one individually. Yes, this is time-consuming, but it will ensure that every fry is well crisped.
I added sweet potatoes into my mix because I enjoy the color and caramelized flavor, but it is true that sweet potatoes are less ideally suited for making crispy fries and are at higher risk for coming out soggy. To avoid this, cut the sweet potato fries thinner or leave them in the oven longer than the Russets.
Crispy Oven Fries (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
- 1 pound Russet potatoes, washed and sliced into fries
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, washed and sliced into fries
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- cracked black pepper
- other seasonings as desired, such as cayenne pepper/garlic powder/thyme
- preheat oven to 500 F, with two baking sheets inside.
- Bring 5 cups of water to boil in a dutch oven.
- Add Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes with baking soda. Boil for 1 minute, drain well.
- Wipe out dutch oven, or put over low heat to evaporate remaining moisture. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, and seasonings, then potatoes. Mix to coat evenly using a rubber spatula and let sit one or two minutes, until the coating thickens and becomes pasty.
- Remove the hot baking sheets from the oven and rub with a paper towel coated in excess oil. Spread the potatoes evenly on the sheets in a single layer, not touching. Cook in oven 15 minutes, turn each fry individually, then cook 15 minutes more or until golden brown and crispy.