Cooking Off the Cuff: A French-Fry Upgrade, and Turnips Infused With Bacon Flavor

02/15/2017 08:05am ET | Updated February 15, 2017

Today I’m revisiting a couple of old ideas: one that was a flop, and one that was already life-changing and with one little tweak has become epoch-making. I’ll start with the latter.

What could have such a profound impact? A low-stress, low-odor, low-spatter way to make excellent french fries, of course. I told the whole story seven years ago in a New York Times Diner’s Journal posting, and there’s really nothing about the technique that has engendered second thoughts. I’ll give you a moment to read it.... The only awkward thing about the method was this: As I instructed in the posting, “Every now and again, use a thin-bladed spatula or a long-handled spoon to make sure [the potatoes] are not sticking (their starch has a tendency to cause this) and give the pan a shake. Be very careful: at a certain point they will be very, very fragile”. I was always worried about splashing hot oil on myself when I eased the flexible spatula under the fries that showed signs of sticking to the pan.

Just two batches ago, I figured it out: Lay a circle of parchment paper into the lightly greased pan before adding the potatoes and oil. I cut mine from larger sheets that I buy on line. Remember: parchment paper (sometimes called greaseproof paper in the UK) is designed to create an oven-safe, essentially non-stick surface on which to bake, so exposing it to the relatively low temperatures at which these potatoes are fried presents no danger of a crisp paper garnish for your spuds. And it works: There’s no sticking at all, and it is possible to move the potatoes around in the oil by simply swirling the pan or poking with a spoon. As I say, epoch-making.

Not so epoch-making were the turnips I tried cooking in vermouth. As I wrote in my sorely neglected personal blog, they smelled like burning rubber and didn’t taste much better. But the idea of cooking turnips in a flavorful liquid is sound: one way and another it is done all the time, including by Jackie and me. Last week or the week before, I hit on the best flavorful liquid so far: stock in which bacon had been simmered. I like to include a chunk of smoked bacon in cooked sauerkraut – along the lines of Alsatian choucroute garnie – but I don’t always want the bacon flavor to take over the whole pot of kraut and limit its versatility. So I cook the bacon separately and add it to the pot at dinner time. I sometimes just simmer it in water, but here’s a better way: Brown a piece of good smoked bacon – mine measured about 2.5 x 4 inches and was around 2.5 inches thick (6.5 x 10 x 6.5 cm) – on all surfaces, rendering some of the fat as you go. Add a half cup (120 ml) of white wine and reduce to a couple of tablespoonsful; add stock 2/3 of the way up the bacon (I used mixed-meat stock combined with vegetable stock; chicken would be okay), cover the pan tightly and simmer over very low heat until the bacon is tender, turning it over after 30 minutes. Allow an hour for this but start checking after 45 minutes.

Remove the bacon. Now you have a wonderful smoky, porky broth. Let it cool and refrigerate it to solidify the surface fat; remove and discard (or save) the fat. Peel a bunch of turnips; if they are very big (as they can be, especially in winter), cut them in half. Simmer them, covered, in the defatted bacon broth until not quite tender, then remove the lid and reduce the liquid to a light glaze, by which time the turnips will be just right.

Turnips – juicy even at this time of year – are particularly good at absorbing flavors and colors, so you will end up with a glistening, savory side dish of great versatility. They were an ideal accompaniment to chicken braised in our sauerkraut: the hint of bacon couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Much better than vermouth!

Edward Schneider

Lining the french-fry pan with parchment paper prevents sticking

Edward Schneider

Potatoes and oil are added on top of the parchment paper

Edward Schneider

The potatoes just starting to brown - there has been no sticking whatsoever

Edward Schneider

The fries (uneven color because of potatoes of two different origins)

Edward Schneider

Turnips simmered and glazed in bacon broth