I blame Nigella for this recipe, and many apologies to all of you who make these sweet potato fries – they are worse than a bag full of peanut M & M’s – no way is it possible to eat just one. If you’re ready, then go all in. Fair warning. But just so you know where I stand on this topic – GO ALL IN.
She credits Cesare Casella, a chef originally from Lucca, for inventing Tuscan Fries; potatoes deep-fried with aromatic herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme) and whole garlic cloves. Sounds delicious, no? But what really got me interested in the recipe was the method Nigella adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, a “revolutionary” fuss-free way to deep-fry, which involves starting with the potatoes in cold oil, heating to a rapid boil and frying to perfection in about 25 minutes.
I don’t like messing with deep-frying usually, but I became very curious and decided to give it a go. I didn’t have any of the waxy potatoes called for in Nigella’s recipe, so I forged ahead with a few sweet potatoes instead.
I also decided not to use corn oil. For both health and flavor reasons, I don’t cook with ultra-processed vegetable oils. It’s olive oil or nothing for the most part (well, except for really good butter and the occasional fling with duck fat, which also makes killer fries).
However, I saved the extra-virgin oil for another day and used a “light” olive oil, which I’m afraid after reading the excellent book Extra Virginity is just as scandalously corrupted and impure as a tanker full of cheap soybean oil. But what the hell. At some point you have to just move on and start frying.
Which I did, and I’m pleased to report that the recipe worked like a charm. The sweet potatoes emerged dark and crisp and were perfectly tender on the inside. The crunchy bits of fried herbs shatter into tiny shards that coat the potatoes, giving every mouthful a taste of them. The garlic slips out of the skin, golden and soft; just right for squeezing out onto the sweet potatoes for even more flavor.
I had some smoked salt and sprinkled some of it over everything, which kind of took it over the top into sweet potato fantastic-ness.
One more great thing – save the oil; it’s aromatic with herbs and garlic. I measured the oil after cooking as Nigella says she did in the recipe introduction, and recovered almost exactly all of it. So cold-start deep frying might not be such an indulgence after all.
A deep fry thermometer is highly recommended here.
3 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 ¾ pounds)
1 ½ quarts “light” olive oil
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves (unpeeled)
Handful each rosemary, sage and thyme sprigs
Smoked sea salt, kosher or sea salt
- Trim off the ends of the sweet potatoes (no need to peel them), stand them on end and slice down vertically into ½-wide planks, then into ½-inch wide fries. If the potatoes are longer than 4 inches, cut the slices in half.
- Put the sweet potatoes in a wide, heavy pot (I used a 4-quart casserole pot 10 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep); cover with the oil, place over high heat and bring to a boil. It should take about 5 minutes.
- Once the oil is bubbling vigorously, set a timer for 15 minutes. Use a deep-fry thermometer to adjust the heat if needed, keeping the oil somewhere between 275 and 300 degrees.
- After 15 minutes, carefully move the sweet potatoes around with a pair of long tongs to mix them around a little. Add the garlic cloves and continue frying for another 5 or 10 minutes, keeping your eye peeled that neither the potatoes or garlic gets too dark.
- Test a fry – carefully- for doneness. If they are golden and crisp and tender on the inside, toss in the herbs (stand back while you do this in case of splatters) and fry for another minute or so.
- Use a slotted skimmer to transfer everything to a towel-lined baking sheet. Blot briefly and sprinkle with salt; serve right away.
Recipe inspired by Tuscan Fries in Nigellissima