Lou's Clues: Scratch Kitchen staples -- potatoes

potatoI suppose it's a little unfair of me to keep extolling the virtues of my "Scratch Kitchen" concept without really telling you the staple ingredients you need to have on hand for this method to work. So, starting the week, I'm going to tell you about a Scratch Kitchen staple, the potato, and give you a great example of how to use it to create flavorful savings in your life.

As a chef, and business turnaround pro, I'm often brought into restaurants to evaluate the menu and figure out how to maximize profits. The biggest trash can for profits, (or in the case of your home kitchen, savings) is the amount of prepared foods ordered from the various purveyors. One of the best examples: fries.

Fresh potatoes can be bought for around 30 cents per pound or less, especially if you're buying wholesale. To save time and maintain uniformity, most chains and large privately owned restaurants purchase 10-pound bags of pre-sliced fries for around one dollar per pound. Although it doesn't seem all that hefty of a difference, it adds up fast! It's much more cost-effective to slice your own, and bang-o! - you've got fries at a real savings. And the best part? This formula doesn't just work in commercial kitchens; it also works in your kitchen.

Fries are just the tip of the iceberg. A good scratch kitchen is stocked with spices, mixes and more. This week, I'll give you the lowdown on potatoes and let you start saving, but stay tuned to this space for more on Scratch Kitchen Staples.

Fries Fit for a King

First, you need to slice those taters! The best way is with either a mandolin, a food pro, or the good ol' steady eye and hand. Any way you choose, keep the cuts uniform, as this will help them all cook evenly. You can slice them long and thin like shoestrings, in big fat wedges called steak fries, or cut on the short side to make round "chips."

My secret with fries is to take a bowl of the hottest tap water you can get and lay the sliced potatoes in the bowl before you fry them. This will lightly pre-cook your taters, and give them a good rinsing to rid them of the surface starch you just kicked up during slicing. This cleansing soak will also keep the taters from sticking together in the frying oil or oven.

After at least one hour (I often let them soak for two), go ahead and drain the potatoes, then pat dry. Bring your frying oil to 350 degrees in a deep fryer or deep pan, then slide in your fries. Scoop them out when they are a light golden brown. I like to leave them on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil clinging to the outside. While they're still piping hot, hit them up with some salt or any other seasonings you like.

If you're on a diet, or just want to skip the oil bath, baking them on a cookie sheet (season them first), for 15 minutes or so in a 425 degree oven will give you pleasing results, too.

Go ahead and add it up. If you look at the price of that bag of frozen fries you are buying, and compare it to the price of fresh potatoes and some oil, you will see how the "Scratch Kitchen" concept can shave up to 30 to 60% off your food bill. And even more importantly - the homemade spuds taste so much better than store-bought.

Chef Louie hosts Good Day Food & Wine, a nationally syndicated weekend radio show. A culinary veteran, Chef Louie pledges to empower you in the kitchen and supermarket, and help you eat better, entertain better and keep more of that hard-earned money close to home. Sign up for his free e-newsletter here.
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