Seasonal Cooking 11 Feb 2007 02:01 pm
I went out on a limb for this dish. I had to defy a long-standing tenant, always accepted as truth in my kitchen: french-fries are never good the next day. No method of re-warming them will work. Steamed, baked, panfried, or microwaved, they come out with a flavor like library paste and a texture like chalk soaked in milk-of-magnesia.
But I had to try, because these weren’t just ordinary fries. They were chili cheese fries from a neighborhood favorite, the late night burger joint Schnäck. The fries were too plentiful to eat all of last night, and too yummy to throw away today, so I had to try. I had to make something out of the mass of cheese, beef, potatoes, beans and spicy goodness stowed in a Styrofoam clamshell in my fridge. I’ve always been a big fan of the chili omelet, and of course nothing goes better with potatoes than eggs (ok everything goes well with potatoes, but give me a little dramatic license, ok?) – so I knew how I would salvage these fries: I would invent the Chili Cheese Fries Frittata.
Could I flout the rule that rewarmed fries will always suck? The challenge was doubled because I had to warm not just the fries, but the whole, solid mass of potatoes chili and cheese, and in such a way that the fries would heat up while the cheese stayed intact and didn’t bubble away into nothing. I started with a thin layer of oil in a large non-stick skillet over relatively high heat (medium high, but a high medium high). I broke up the mass with a fork just a bit, so that as many of the fries would have contact with the skillet as possible. I shook this gently from time to time until the fries were good and warmed – but the chili and cheese, still mostly on top, were still relatively cool. To heat the top layers, I turned the heat down and put on a lid, baking the chili and cheese in the heat inside the pan. I didn’t add any liquid but I knew that with the lid on there would still be enough steam that the fries would never get crispy. That was ok though: it was a better tradeoff than pan-frying the cheese to death, and the fries would soon be soaked in egg, where a bit of mushiness might be ok.
Now I turned my thoughts to the egg. I wanted a deep frittata, with egg soaking through and cooking into the layers of fries and chili. So I broke 4 eggs into a bowl, added salt and pepper and a gave them quick toss with a fork, and poured this into a smaller (8 inch) skillet in which a teaspoon or two of olive oil had been heated. As the bottom began to set, I lifted the edges to let some of the uncooked egg flow underneath. I left plenty of liquidy uncooked egg on top, though, for the next step: lifting the skillet of fries off of the flame, I slid the leftovers out and into the egg. The potatoes needed to be good and hot, because I wanted their heat to do some of the work of cooking the top layer of the egg. I gently pressed them down into the egg as they did so.
To make sure the egg was all cooked and the top was heated, I gave the frittata a very quick run under the broiler. I let it rest for just a minute to set up , then slid it onto a board and cut it into wedges. Now came the moment of truth: had I broken the next-day french-fry barrier? Had I created an edible dish from leftover fries? I raised a bite to my lips.. I bit.. I tasted… chalk. Library paste. Milk of magnesia. The fries stayed true to their nature and would not be reheated. Overall the frittata was not so bad and made a decent breakfast, but the creation was far from a triumph. The rule stands: French fries, like seafood, are good only near their source.