SOMEHOW OUR DRYER, oven, and dishwasher all went kaput in the same week. On the upside, it meant the fresh scent of Spring soaked into the sheets we hung out to dry—and some creative cookery. These hand-cut fries with lemon and curry-leaf aioli were the stars of the lot. If you haven’t tried yet, making French fries from scratch isn’t difficult, it just requires several steps. The result is so good, you’ll be doing it again. Rather than ketchup, I paired the fries with this lemony aioli, infused with the pungency of fresh curry leaves. Curry leaves are a fresh herb, not to be confused with curry powder, which is a different thing entirely. These leaves are essential to South Indian cooking and are also used in Malaysian, Cambodian and Sri Lankan cuisine. They are available all over the Chicago area in Indian and Asian groceries (Amazon also has them). For this lovely aioli, you pulverize the leaves with some fresh cardamom seeds in a spice mill and then steep them in hot oil to release the aroma and flavor. Once cooled, you make the aioli with the fragrant oil, along with lemon juice, egg yolk, garlic, and a bit of mustard. For an extra special touch? I dust the fries with lemon salt—finely grated lemon zest tossed with sea salt flakes. They are impossible to resist.
Hand-Cut Fries with Lemon Curry-Leaf Aioli
makes 4 to 6 servings
For the Fries:
• Deep-fat fryer filled to manufacturer-suggested level with vegetable or sunflower oil
• 5 large Idaho potatoes, skin-on, scrubbed well, and any imperfections discarded
For the Lemon Curry Aioli (makes 1 cup):
• 30 fresh curry leaves (you will grind 20 for the aioli and fry 10 whole)
• 1 tablespoon cardamom seeds (If you have cardamom pods, open them to remove the seeds; discard pod skins)
• ¾ cup sunflower or safflower oil
• Finely grated zest from 1 lemon (reserve to use for the lemon salt you will sprinkle on fries—see below)
• 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 large room-temperature egg yolk
• ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon cold water
• 1 small garlic clove, finely minced
For the Lemon Salt:
• Reserved finely-grated zest from 1 lemon
• 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes
1. Make Fries: On a clean cutting board, slice each potato in half lengthwise. Flip each half onto its cut side and slice into four even lengths. Turn each of these on its side and slice into long strips, each about ¼ inch thick, working to keep each of the fries about the same thickness for even frying.
2. Place fries in a large bowl of very cold water. Soak for one hour. While the potatoes soak, make the aioli. (Method below.)
3. Remove potatoes from water and pat dry very well. Preheat oil in deep fat fryer to 350 degrees. Spread a large cookie sheet with several layers of paper toweling. Working in batches, blanch 2 cups of the potatoes at a time in the hot oil for 3 minutes each. Remove each batch to the paper towel-covered cookie sheet to drain and cool.
4. Increase fryer heat to 400. Working in 2 cup batches again, fry the potatoes a second time, about 4 to 5 minutes, watching closely until potatoes are golden brown and crispy. Drain well for a second time on fresh paper toweling. In a small bowl, mix reserved lemon zest with 2 teaspoons of salt. Sprinkle over fries, top with reserved fried curry leaves. Serve immediately with lemon curry aioli.
5. Make Aioli: Using a spice mill or coffee grinder, pulse 20 curry leaves until finely minced. Remove to a small bowl. Pulse cardamom seeds into powder and add to minced curry leaves. In a small saucepan over medium high heat, toast the ground cardamom and curry leaf for 30 seconds to release fragrance. Add sunflower oil and remaining 10 whole curry leaves. Heat for a scant 30 seconds more until curry leaves are crisp and transparent. Remove pan from heat. Scoop out the whole leaves and drain on a paper towel. Leave the ground spices in the oil to cool.
6. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolk with lemon juice, mustard and cold water until frothy. Scoop all into the bowl of a food processor. Add minced garlic and salt. Pulse a few times. Pour the cooled curry-spiced oil through a strainer, capturing the oil in a spouted cup; discard aromatics. With the processor running, slowly add spiced oil, drop by drop, to the egg mixture. As the aioli begins to emulsify, increase drop-by-drop addition of oil to a slow thin trickle until all of the oil has been incorporated and the aioli is smooth, thick and fluffy. Adjust seasoning/consistency to taste by adding a tiny bit more salt or lemon juice.
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