On a strong #fermentallthethings streak this year, I thought I’d look into fermenting potatoes. Actually, I ate “sauer-frites” for the first time at Poincaré Chinatown, a lovely little fermentation-forward bistro in Montréal, Quebec. They were fried, and unlike most french fries, had a distinct lactic acid sour flavor which was quite nice!
I was inspired to try these myself.
Not super enthusiastic about deep frying in general (finding good quality non-vegetable oil is hard and expensive, and I’m lazy and don’t like the cleanup/storage hassle), I found a way to achieve crispy, golden brown fries by oiling and then roasting them in the oven.
A review of the scientific studies (based on others’ cluing me in– thanks, Sandor!) revealed that fermenting potatoes has another benefit– it reduces acrylamide, a byproduct of the Maillard reactions created when frying or applying high heat to starchy foods, and a recently discovered carcinogen (cancer causing substance).
We know that lactic acid bacteria (or LAB) love to munch on glucose and fructose, among other carbohydrates. According to the studies I read, acrylamide is formed by the reaction of glucose and a chemical called asparagine. So if there’s less glucose on the surface of foods, such as with brined/fermented potatoes, then there’s not enough sugar for acrylamide to form, or at least is greatly reduced. The same study showed that exposing potatoes to LAB for just 90 minutes is effective (although I’m speculating that theirs is probably in a different, “laboratory-grade” dosage than with the wild fermented technique we are using). The study also showed that brining potatoes in a salt solution for 5 days also reduced acrylamide formation (but not quite as effectively as fermenting). Soooo, long story short, we are BOTH brining and fermenting them for up to 3 days, so there’s a good chance the acrylamide is quite reduced with this preparation method.
I played around with a few variables: recipe (with or without oil and seasonings), brine strength (from 3% to 5%), fermentation length (2 to 3 days), cooking temperature (400 to 450F) and cooking time, whether to pat the potatoes dry or not, rinse them, etc. to develop what I feel gives the most “fried” experience. I settled on 450 to achieve the best browning in the shortest time, combined with a pleasant fried-like texture– crispy on the outside, moist in the middle, and a different brine strength depending on the thickness of the cut (higher for thicker cut).
By brining and fermenting potatoes, I found I didn’t need to add salt to them when roasting. If you’re going for a spiced variety, skip any mixes that contain salt and just use herbs.
After fermenting, I drained them on a baking rack, but did not rinse them off.
I tossed in a small amount of olive oil and baked for 20 minutes. Voila!
- 1 lb. (500g) organic russet potatoes or organic sweet potatoes
- 1 quart (1 liter) filtered water
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) fine sea salt
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) pickle or sauerkraut brine, or liquid whey
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) olive oil, ghee, or avocado oil
- spices to taste
- FRENCH FRY STYLE: Slice the potatoes lengthwise into ¼ to ½" (1 to 2 cm) thick pieces.
- STEAK FRY STYLE: Slice the potatoes lengthwise into ½ to ¾" (2 to 3 cm) thick pieces.
- Add to a bowl or jar.
- FRENCH FRY STYLE: Dissolve salt into water to make a fresh 4% brine with 2 Tbsp/30ml/40g sea salt.
- STEAK FRY STYLE: Dissolve salt into water to make a fresh 5% brine 2½ Tbsp/40ml/50g sea salt.
- Pour fresh brine and mature pickle/sauerkraut brine over potatoes.
- Ensure that the potatoes are submerged in the brine. Cover container with a cloth or lid to keep insects out.
- Let sit in brine for 72 hours. There should be a mild sour aroma and possibly bubbles at the top of the container.
- Preheat oven to 450F (232C). Remove potatoes from brine. Save 1/10th of the brine if you want to make another batch.
- Let them drip dry on a baking rack 10-15 minutes. Do not rinse.
- Toss potatoes in oil and optional spices. Place in single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or silicone mat.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes or until golden brown.
- Serve immediately.