January 31st, 2011
Here’s the truth (my truth): if the potatoes ain’t fried, they aren’t “french fries.” I’m not saying that oven baked “fries” aren’t tasty or worth making — they are! — but they are a different beast, so to speak. They way deep dish pizza is something other than my pizza. (I live in NYC people and, yes, I went there; go ahead and bring it on!)
I recently made burgers and decided against frying potatoes. Instead of defaulting to oven baked fries, I decided to give polenta fries a try (can be shared with kids 10+ mos; a great first finger food!). If I was going to make something other than real french fries why not make something really different, right? Polenta fries fit the bill while still being yummy, fun and keeping in the spirit of french fries. Because, you know, serving french fry-shaped food that’s crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and goes well with ketchup is pretty important on burger night.
Making the Polenta
The “right” way to do this is by making polenta yourself. It’s super easy and actually doesn’t take much time. Just cook according to the instructions on your package of ground polenta, spread a 1/2″ layer on a rimmed cookie sheet, cool (at least one hour in the fridge), and cut into “fries” before baking per my instructions below. If you don’t have — or don’t want to take — the time, you can buy ready made polenta. Then all you do is cut the polenta into “fries” and bake.
The benefit of starting with ground polenta is that you can add much more flavor. When cooking the ground polenta, use chicken broth, veggie broth or milk instead of water. At the end of cooking, before you spread the polenta on a sheet to cool, add grated cheese. Parmesan or pecorino work nicely, like in this polenta recipe, or try my Smoked Gouda Polenta. You can even stir in herbs if you want to get fancy. Cheddar Chive Polenta Fries, anyone?!
Turning the Polenta into Fries
Once you have your fry-shapes cut, coat them lightly with oil (spray or use your fingers to rub olive oil on all sides), lay them in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
These are easy, healthier than real french fries, just as fun and totally delicious!! Like seriously scrumptious. I won’t compare the flavor to french fries — they are a different animal — but one that goes damn well with my burger!
Oh, and let’s talk about what a great finger food these are. Total bonus! Blot off the extra oil and hand ‘em over to your little one. If your Hungry Baby is just beginning to eat finger foods, bake their fries for less time so that they hold together, but are still soft on the outside.