My love of french fries is vast and well–documented — preferably in a golden, crisp and glittering-with-fine-salt heap with some aioli, an artichoke or oysters and ice-cold, very dry champagne, outside at a bustling cafe in a life that seems a bit distant right now — so I hope you will take this statement with the utmost gravitas when I say that these crispy potatoes are as good as, if not better, than fries.
I first had a version of them at Barbuto restaurant (of the chocolate budino and kale salad fame) nearly eight years ago, and I’ve watched cooks making them in the open kitchen dozens of times since. Cold, boiled potatoes are crumbled directly into a fryer in irregular chunks and not taken out until they’re a deep golden brown. Once drained they’re tossed in a big metal bowl with salt, a lot of pecorino, and a few sprigs of fried rosemary. They are perfect, absolutely perfect.
I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to do two annoying things to make them at home: you’ll have to cook and fully chill the potatoes for several hours or overnight before you can finish them, and you’re going to have to deep-fry. There isn’t another way around either. That’s why it’s taken me all of these years to share the recipe because, eh, who wants to bother? I mean, not even me, not when I
can could* order them at some of my favorite restaurants. The potatoes will be too loose and floury and not crumble into nice chunks unless they’re fully cold. And yes, I’ve tried to roast them instead and it’s just not the same, not even close — the smaller pieces and corners turn black before the angles of the chunks get any color on them. Plus, they always seem oily in a way that the deep-fried nuggets are not. It’s the even toasty color and perfect crisp on every craggy, erratic angle that makes these transcendent.
From here, you can Barbuto them (pecorino, rosemary), you can MeMe’s Diner them (finish them little drizzle of shallot oil, I presume leftover from crisping shallots), you could patatas bravas them (smoked paprika, aioli, and a spicy tomato sauce), or you can just salt them and not feel, however briefly, that you’re missing out on a single, blissful thing.
* Both Barbuto is currently closed and MeMe’s Diner, unfortunately, permanently closed. It’s been a heartbreaking year for restaurants. I wish I could list and support every restaurant I love, but it would be all of them. Here are a few more places you can donate, should you be able.
Six months ago: Chicken Curry
One year ago: Cannellini Aglio e Olio
Two years ago: Asparagus and Egg Salad with Walnuts and Mint
Three years ago: Almond Horn Cookies
Four years ago: Eggs-in-Purgatory, Puttanesca-Style and Spring Chicken Salad Toasts
Five years ago: Carrot Graham Layer Cake and Wild Mushroom Pate
Six years ago: Three Bean Chili
Seven years ago: Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini
Eight years ago: Raspberry Coconut Macaroons
Nine years ago: Spaetzle
Ten years ago: Bakewell Tart and Romesco Potatoes
Eleven years ago: Chewy Amaretti Cookies
Twelve years ago: Shaker Lemon Pie
Thirteen years ago: Mixed Berry Pavlova
Crispy, Crumbled Potatoes
- 4 medium/large Russet potatoes
- Kosher salt
- 2 cups vegetable or peanut oil
- Finishes of your choice (see suggestions in post)
Crumble and fry your potatoes: Once potatoes are fully cool in the center (you can check by inserting a skewer or toothpick and holding it there for a few seconds; if it feels cold to the touch when you remove it, the potato is chilled inside), heat oil in a 9-inch heavy frying pan to 350 degrees F. You could use a bigger one and it will go faster, but you’ll need more oil.
Line a tray with paper towels or a torn paper bag to blot oil. Messily crumble and tear potatoes with your hands into large and small chunks, including the skin. Add 1/3 to 1/2 of the potatoes to the oil at a time. Let them fry for 8 to 10 minutes, turning pieces over as they brown underneath, until pieces are a deep golden brown all over — don’t compromise on the color. Remove with a slotted spoon, shake excess oil back into pan, and drain on towels, showering immediately with salt. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Eat immediately.
Rewarm potatoes: In a 350 degree oven on a big tray.