Sichuan-style Stir-fried Potato Strings
Yesterday’s Fruit and Veggie Co-Op based meal involved a lot of potatoes. My first instinct was quite honestly, crap, how can two people possibly eat this many potatoes?
My childhood pre-Octopus Gourmet was an uneventful one, but it involved a LOT of potatoes. They were, without a doubt, my favorite food: roasted, in latke or kugel form… I wasn’t picky. Of course, the best possible manifestation of the potato was french fries, which I lovingly nicknamed “F.F.s.” Trips to China involved a lot of McDonald’s runs, and occasionally some home-made fries.
But every once in a while there would be a misunderstanding, in which i was served stir-fried rather than fried potatoes (stir-fried potato strips, or 土豆丝). I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking this concept was an abomination: potatoes, as we all know, are a starch, not a vegetable, and should be either mashed to the consistency of baby food or fried to an oily crisp. Right? Wrong?
I don’t think I’ve had F.F.s since middle school. Clearly I OD’d. I approach the potato with caution, and now with new eyes. The key to this wonderful appetizer or side dish, the epitome of Chinese home cooking, is to think of it as a vegetable. It may seem carb-heavy to pair it with rice, but I promise you won’t notice the difference. Soaking the potatoes (which must be sliced very thinly) in cold water, eliminates some of the starch. You might as well be eating carrots or any other root vegetable.
Seasonings, as always, are open to interpretation. They range from the most basic (salt) to my personal favorite: hot and sour, made possible with the use of Sichuan peppercorns, Sichuan chili peppers, and a lot of Chinese black vinegar (best approximated with sherry vinegar or a very un-sweet balsamic).
The key is to keep tasting for texture and flavor: you want the potatoes to be crunchy, but obviously not raw. They won’t be crispy like french fries, but should have the same satisfying contrast between crunchy exterior and soft inside.
I encourage you to munch these and tell me what you think. I’m sure Michael Pollan and others would agree that the potato is a vegetable, not a starch: After all, it does have leaves.
Stir-fried Potato Strings, Sichuan Style
- 1/2 lb Russett potatoes, peeled and sliced into very thin matchsticks
- Water for soaking
- 2 TBSP peanut oil
- 1-2 TBSP Sichuan peppercorns
- 5-6 Sichuan chili peppers
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup Chinese Black Vinegar
- Thinly sliced bell pepper or hot pepper, optional
- Sesame oil, optional
- Cilantro, for garnish, optional
- Put the sliced potatoes in a large boil and cover with cold water. Let sit for at least half an hour, changing the water once you see potato starch rising to the top.
- Rinse and drain. Blot with a paper towel or cloth.
- Heat the oil in a wok (MUST be a wok) on the highest heat possible, until it smokes.
- Toss in the peppercorns, taking care not to burn yourself (the oil might splatter). Toss with the oil just until they smell fragrant, then IMMEDIATELY transfer to another plate with a slotted spoon. They burn VERY quickly.
- (You can either discard the peppercorns or add them back to the wok later when the heat isn’t as high)
- Next, do the same thing with the chili peppers: fry in the same oil until fragrant but not burnt, then move to a plate.
- Keep the heat on high, then add the potatoes. Stir-fry for five minutes, adding water if they begin to stick. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add sliced pepper (optional) and keep stir-frying on high.
- Add vinegar and keep stir-frying.
- When potatoes are done to your liking, feel free to add the peppercorns and chilis back to the wok and heat everything through. (I even added additional chili peppers because I’m hardcore like that)
- Season with additional salt and vinegar to taste.
- Garnish with cilantro and a drizzle of sesame oil. Serve.
(Recipes in photo coming up, not to worry)