- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006


It sounded daunting but ended up being an easy challenge.

I wanted chili-seasoned french fries that were as crispy and flavorful as those gorgeous deep-fried wedges you find at carnivals — all golden and fatty — but healthy enough that I wouldn’t feel pangs of guilt feeding them to my toddler.

Parker long has eaten everything we do, and sometimes a bit more (last night, he grabbed a scrap of raw red onion from the cutting board and promptly ate the whole thing). So if I were to make fries, they would have to baby-friendly.

That meant the fries couldn’t actually be so. And that was fine by me. The reality for home cooks is that deep-frying is too much hassle and mess to be a frequent option. For time and caloric considerations, my family has always preferred oven “fries.”

The trick to oven fries — and by that, I mean the trick to producing fries crispy enough to be called fries — is high heat. Cooking oven fries at anything lower than about 475 degrees produces wedge-shaped baked potatoes.

Potato type also is key, but it also isn’t. Experts generally say russet potatoes make the best fries because the starch content lends itself to tender insides and crisp outsides. They’re right.

Who stocks a pantry with multiple potato varieties? I use what I have on hand — sometimes russets, sometimes reds, last week it was a purple variety — and never have been disappointed.

Speaking of variety, don’t hesitate to use sweet potatoes, which nutritionists praise as far healthier than their white counterparts. Don’t expect the fries to get quite as crisp, but they still are delicious.

I usually go for olive oil. Some people prefer corn or vegetable oil because of their more neutral flavors, but I like the taste olive oil gives the fries, especially on those sprinkled with other seasonings. To cut the fat even more, use olive or canola oil cooking spray instead. Spray a baking sheet with oil, arrange the unseasoned potato wedges on the sheet, spritz the potatoes with a bit more oil, then season and bake.

As for method of coating, I prefer the shake-it-and-bake-it technique. I toss all the ingredients in a plastic bag, seal it and shake vigorously (a process that fascinated my son and one that older children could help with), then pour onto a baking sheet.

Whether to flip the fries during baking to get more uniform crisping is a personal choice. Out of sheer laziness, I generally don’t and have always been happy with the results. For more exacting cooks, flipping takes little effort.

The seasonings were easy — I just added the same seasonings I use when making chili. The result was delicious.

Oven chili fries

4 large russet potatoes

4 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon cumin

tablespoon chili powder

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Cut each potato in half lengthwise, then cut each half into about six long wedges. Alternatively, cut each potato into thin rounds. A mandoline slicer also can be used to cut uniform wedges or rounds.

Transfer the cut potatoes to a large plastic bag. Add the oil, cumin and chili powder. Seal the bag and shake to evenly coat the potatoes. Transfer the potatoes to a baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the fries are crisp. For more even crisping, use a spatula to flip the fries after 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

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