Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Little Clarification

Recently I was inspired by a friend to pick up my copy of the French Laundry Cookbook and actually use it. There’s a pretty doable recipe for brioche (a delicious, rich bread with loads of eggs and butter) as well as for homemade potato chips. I wanted to bake the brioche and use it for a neighborhood grilled cheese party and I decided what the hell, let’s make the potato chips too! In Thomas Keller’s recipe the potatoes are sliced thin and fried in canola oil and an equal amount of clarified butter.

Butter isn’t just fat; it contains milk solids as well. The milk solids are what make butter burn at high temperatures; remove them and you raise the smoke point. To do this, you gently heat the butter to melt it, skim off the foam that rises to the top, and then ladle off the clear butter on top. The milk solids are on the bottom of your pan and need to stay there. Take your time; tip the saucepan when needed to facilitate the job and voilá! You have clarified butter. Note: one pound of butter will yield 1 ½ cups of clarified butter.

Clarified Butter

To slice the potatoes paper thin I used my mandoline; a good v-slicer would work fine as long as it’s adjustable. I used small, different colored potatoes and left the skins on. When using a mandoline I have found that it is much easier to slice potatoes if I don’t press down too hard. A gentle hand will allow the potatoes to glide over the blade with no trouble. But pay attention! I once advised a friend that drinking wine while slicing might cause her to lose a finger and she opted out of buying a mandoline. Just as well, I guess!

So let’s make chips: heat 1 ½ cups each canola oil and clarified butter to 300 degrees (I use a candy thermometer) in a saucepan. Meanwhile, slice your potatoes. When the oil reaches temperature, quickly drop potato slices in the oil one at a time so they stay separate. When the chips reach the desired color, fish them out (I use a spider) and lay them on paper towels. Quickly add more potato slices and repeat the process until all your chips are cooked. Season with salt and pepper and eat! They are delicious.

Potato Chips

Since the brioche recipe is so easy and works so well and the potato chips were a snap to make, I will probably delve further into the cookbook that used to scare me so much. I’ll let you know.

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