The Global Chef: Oven-fry root vegetables for French-fried virtue | News

Nancy Krcek Allen

March has one foot in winter and the other in spring. One day might be cold, dark and rainy then on the next the skies magically clear and the temps rise. Fickle, bombastic weather makes it hard to decide what to eat. Comfort food is top priority during these changeable times; it helps ease the transition.

There is nothing more comforting than French fries. However, our beloved fries may be a health hazard. Restaurant French fries are potato sticks immersed in oil that gets heated to 365 degrees F for weeks or months on end. The oil breaks down into (you won’t want to hear this) sludgy, toxic free radicals many of which are absorbed into the potato.

Researchers from the University of the Basque in Spain discovered that at frying temperature, common cooking oils release toxic aldehydes that are airborne pollutants. To discover if the toxins stayed in the food, they heated sunflower (smoke point 440 degrees F) and virgin or refined olive oil (smoke point 410 to 465 degrees F) in deep fryers to 375 degrees F for 40 hours. Researchers discovered that sunflower oil released the most toxic aldehydes.

Conversely, olive oil, with higher concentrations of monounsaturated fats, generated less toxic compounds less quickly. They concluded in the journal Food Chemistry that toxic compounds released from foods deep-fried in many vegetable and seed oils may significantly increase the risk of neurologic degenerative diseases and a variety of different cancers.

There is a solution to our comfort food dilemma: oven-frying. Dangerous deep-fries can be easily transformed into virtuous. Toss cut potatoes with seasonings/salt and olive oil. Spread on a parchment or silicone lined sheet pan and roast potatoes until crispy, brown and delicious. Since these oven-fries are tossed with fresh olive oil and heated only once for a short time they pose no health danger. If you wish to deep-fry your potatoes, do it at home and use fresh oil each time.

Though potatoes are the most comforting French fry material, other root and tuber vegetables like rutabaga, carrot, celery root, turnip, parsnip and sweet potato deliver a startlingly rich-flavored bounty of fries. It’s a great way to induce friends and family to consume more vegetables.

That’s a win-win for everyone.


  • Oven-fries can be made in four different shapes: Wedges, thick sticks, thin sticks or rounds. Thinner shapes crisp better than thick.
  • They may be made crispy and oil-free with foamy, whisked egg white, or crispy with a little oil.
  • Oven-fries may be seasoned and served with a dipping sauce like mayonnaise or ketchup with chopped chipotle in adobo, yogurt, chutney, peanut sauce, salsa or tahini-lemon sauce.
  • Peeling is optional. Use organic produce if not peeling and scrub well.
  • Soak cut potatoes in cold water 15 minutes for a crispier baked fry. Drain and pat dry very well. (Un-soaked fries are still decently crispy.)

Root Vegetable Oven-Fries

Oil and high heat are most important to making crisp baked French fries. They lock in moisture and result in fries with a crispy exterior and a creamy interior. Yukon Gold potatoes yield a tender, creamy texture. Experiment with other root vegetables like sweet potatoes, rutabaga, parsnips, turnips, celery root and carrots work well. Cut each vegetable in same-sizes and shapes; roast separately.

Serves 4 to 6

2 lbs. root vegetables, scrubbed or peeled and washed

2 to 3 T. olive oil or 1 large egg white, whisked until frothy

1-1/2 t. sea ​​salt or kosher salt

Optional seasoning:

2 t. dried Italian herbs

2 t. chili powder and 1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 to 2 t. garlic powder

1 to 2 t. curry powder

Preheat oven to 450°F for potatoes. Preheat to 400°F for sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, which contain more sugar and burn more quickly.

Line two sheet pans with parchment. Cut vegetables into desired shape:

  • Wedges: Slice medium potato or sweet potato in half lengthwise so that you get the two flatter halves. Lay a half on the cut side and slice lengthwise into 4 wedges; repeat with remaining potatoes. Place potatoes in water as you slice them. (For extra crispness soak potatoes 15 to 30 minutes while preparing sauce.) Drain and blot potatoes very dry in kitchen towel.
  • 1/2-inch thick sticks: Slice a 1/2-inch thick slice lengthwise from the side of one potato. Lay potato on the cut side and slice potato lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch wide sticks; repeat with remaining potatoes.
  • 1/8-inch thick sticks: Slice a 1/8-inch thick slice lengthwise from the side of one potato. Lay potato on the cut side and slice potato lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into 1/8-inch wide sticks; repeat with remaining potatoes.
  • 1/4-inch rounds: Slice vegetable 1/4-inch thick crosswise to produce “coins.”

Blot vegetables dry if wet. Place them in a large mixing bowl and toss with oil or egg white, salt and optional seasoning to coat. Spread vegetables on pans in one layer, not touching. Place in oven on top or middle rack.

Using a spatula, flip vegetables once, if desired, as they roast, 20 to 30 minutes depending on how crispy and brown you like them. Serve hot.

Nancy Krcek Allen has been a chef-educator for more than 25 years and has taught professional and recreational classes in California, New York City and Michigan. Her culinary textbook Her is called “Discovering Global Cuisines.”


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