Like most Cajun men, Daddy cooked. If I had to guess, I’d say barbecuing was his favorite way to demonstrate that. He never fired up his pit (a re-purposed 55-gallon oil drum) without planning to cook at least two meats, and most often, three or four: chicken, pork chops, steaks, andouille sausage were the most common, but he also did venison (after lots of marinating) and probably tried squirrels at one point before deciding they were best in gumbo or sauce piquant (the recipes of which are forthcoming!).
Of his culinary output, Daddy’s barbecue was definitely my favorite. His pork chops and andouille — especially when it was grilled to a crisp – were my very very favorite. Outside of the grill, he made a great courtbouillon (most Cajuns make this with catfish, but Daddy didn’t like catfish because it’s a bottom-feeder, so he used other sturdy types of fish, depending on what was available). Expect a post on that recipe for courtbouillon some time in the fall.
My father was also pretty talented at side dishes, and, in particular, one that I’ll never forget: his Paper Bag Fries. The first time he made these was outdoors (where you can cook up a storm without stinking up the house), on one of our hunting/camping trips. These fries are exceptional to me, when compared to all others, not because of the ingredients, but because of the method: after frying, he blotted the oil away from the fries by shaking them in a grocery-store paper bag. Then he fried and shook them a second time to get them all heated up again and to be extra crispy. That paper bag blotting technique not only gets rid of the excess oil on the fries, but it – more importantly – infuses them with a bit of paper-bag-wood-pulp flavor that you can’t get any other way. Check out the recipe below the photo.
ZANNY ARDOIN’S PAPER BAG FRIES
– 4 cups of peanut oil
(You can use canola or blended vegetable oil, but the peanut oil adds just a subtle flavor umph that you don’t get with other oils).
– 6 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into fries – thin or medium thickness, depending on what you like (Not too thick – thick fries take too long to cook to the same crispness, and the end result is not worth the wait).
– Salt, crushed black pepper, cayenne pepper to taste (see formula below)
– At least 2 large clean brown paper bags
(Becoming harder to find, so you may have to buy them at a hardware or general merchandise store).
First, accept the fact that you’ll have to cook these fries twice before serving. That’s what it takes to get them the way Daddy did his. You can get away with only one pass in the hot oil, but then why would you do that if you want something that tastes markedly different from the regular, ordinary (dare I say, SAD) fries of your formerly miserable** life?
Soak cut potatoes for 30 minutes in cold water, rinse and pat dry with a towel.
Preferably outdoors on an open fire, heat the oil for about four minutes in a cast iron Dutch oven until a drop of water crackles when it hits the oil.
Carefully place the prepared potatoes in the oil, making sure not to overcrowd them. You will need to do this in a few batches.
Cook each batch for about four to six minutes, or until they become yellow/light brown. Remove the fries from the oil with a wire mesh spoon and quickly transfer them to one of the brown paper bags.
Sprinkle salt, black pepper, and red pepper into the bag, the amount depending on the quantity of potatoes in the batch. Clutch the bag closed and give it a vigorous shake for five full seconds. Transfer the fries to a dish and finish cooking all of the other batches.
Once that’s done, you will need to re-fry ALL of the seasoned fries AGAIN in one big, final batch, for at least two full minutes more. If your pot is small, you may need to break up this last step into two final batches. This second frying will fully finish the cooking process so the insides are done and the outsides are crispy. If you skip this step (ie: only fry them once), your one cooking time will need to be a few minutes longer.
Repeat the bag-shaking process with a fresh bag, then transfer to a final serving dish. Sprinkle more seasoning as some will have cooked off in the second frying. Adjust amount as desired.
*Pre-make your seasoning mix: In a bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1 tablespoon of crushed black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Mix well with a fork or whisk. The simple trio of seasonings is enough for fries. If you want to start pimping it up more, then the dish turns into something else, and the delicious simplicity of my potato-to-seasoning ratio will be sacrificed to your urge to over-do. Resist that urge! This formula is enough seasoning for the 6 large potatoes in this recipe. You can make a bigger batch of seasoning using this formula: 1 part salt; one part black pepper; 1/3 part cayenne pepper.
**Clearly, once you make these paper bag fries, your life will cease to be miserable!
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