Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Confidentially-speaking, the World's Best Street Food

It's time to Cook the Books! Our hostess Jodi of Food Junkie not Junk Food chose Kitchen Confidential by bad boy Anthony Bourdain. Executive Chef of Brasserie Les Halles and host of the series No Reservations, Bourdain lays bare the life of a line chef, deglamorizing what those of us caught up in the world of celebrity chefs have come to believe is the life of the ultimate foodie. Not for the faint of heart, Kitchen Confidential reminds us why we shouldn't order fish on Tuesday or load our brunch plates with seafood salad.

I have to admit upfront that Bourdain is my kind of man--raunchy--and he can cook, too. Bourdain is a modern day troubador. His stories, which immediately called to mind the years I worked as a waitress and bartender, not only resonated, but made me profoundly happy that I had not pursued a career as a caterer or chef. I always refer to this dream, with regret, as my "road not taken." After reading about Bourdain's career as a line cook and chef, I realize that this is not the kind of cooking I would ever have been happy doing--that is, if I could have lasted longer than a week. The sheer boredom would have killed me if I hadn't sliced or burned myself to death.

Bourdain's behind-the-scenes revelations were perhaps not as shocking as they would have been had I not experienced firsthand at least 2 complete degenerates who were head chefs in 2 different fine dining establishments. Forget the 3 second rule or kissing it up to heaven. I worked for one chef who must have had dropsy. After I'd seen my first half dozen lobster tails go from the floor to the broiler--yes, it was a small space, but come on--I figured it was a good thing I didn't eat shellfish. Looking back, it's a wonder I ever had the courage to sample it. The other fellow--and they were both named Freddie--ruled the kitchen with a gutter mouth and a sadism that would have put the Marquis de Sade to shame. If you were unlucky enough to get a table of 8, he insisted you carry out ALL the plates on one tray. Try that when you're 5' 3 ,weigh 120 pounds, and have to walk a hallway the length of a bowling alley.

Yes, these were stories that were all too believable. I remember, too, the "family" meals. Whenever possible, I ate before I reported for work. Too many meat sauces--mystery meat sauce would have been more accurate--and goulashes made me wary.

Bourdain makes no bones about the kind of cooking he was doing, makes no attempt to cover up his years of addiction and debauchery. He may have begun cooking to pay the rent, but his reverence for well-prepared food coupled with his knowledge of technique ultimately earned him staying power in this difficult vocation.

In the chapter entitled "How to Cook Like the Pros," Bourdain offers wonderful suggestions about equipment and pantry essentials. While this book contains no recipes, there were many dishes noted throughout. Bourdain confesses that he is as likely to order in Chinese when he is at home as he is to cook for himself. His own food preferences are wide-ranging. Were it winter, I might have decided to make a caldo Gallego in homage to his early experiences in a community heavily influenced by the Portuguese. However, as spring leads into Memorial Day, the official start of the BBQ season, I opted for the quintessential accompaniment to grilled burgers, that most sublime of street food goodness--fried potatoes. This recipe is from Bourdain's Les Halles' Cookbook and they are very much worth the effort.

Serves 4
4 Idaho potatoes, long ones
2 qts or more peanut oil

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch thick sticks. Put them immediately into the bowl of ice water to keep them from oxidizing. Leave them in the water anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight, then rinse well in cold water to take out much of the starch.

In a deep fryer or heavy-bottomed pot (I used my Dutch oven), heat the oil to 280˚F. Cook the potatoes in batches, about 6 to 8 minutes for each batch, until they are soft and their color has paled from opaque white to a semitransluscent white. Do not get impatient and yank them out early. Remove them from the oil with a skimmer or wire basket and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Let them rest at least 15 minutes.

Bring the oil up to 375˚F, no hotter, no cooler. Fry the blanched potatoes in batches for 2 to 3 minutes each, or until they are crispy and golden brown. Remove from the oil with the skimmer or wire basket, shake off the excess oil.

Immediately drop the fries into another large bowl, which has been lined with a clean, dry lint-free towel. Add salt to taste and whip out the towel. Toss the fries around in the bowl and serve while still hot.

I can't say that I will make these often. I hate cleaning my stovetop which is an incentive to eat more healthfully (I seldom fry things) and my waistline can't afford this treat. But I know that I will make them again. Perhaps next time some aioli mayonnaise would be tasty.


  1. Yum, yum, yum. Great Cook the Books post! I gotta get on the stick and do up my post (like today, yikes). I enjoyed the book too, even the filthy parts, and can think of a few war stories from my days as a waitress too.

  2. My nemesis indeed - I just can't resist.

  3. Great post! I enjoyed reading this :)

  4. What a great excuse to use my new Dutch ovens!! I love homemade fries!

  5. Great post! A great fried potato may be th most perfect thing on earth!

  6. French Fries are my weakness.

  7. Hello my good friend. Thank you so much for stopping by. It's been a long three weeks. I've missed you guys alot. French fries are a comfort food for me. Whether you eat them out or make them at home, they just seem like the perfect snack to put a smile on your face. Big hugs sweetie.
    So did you like the Twilight series? I did. Though the last one seemed a little darker than the first three.

  8. You can't beat fries and a burger! Good Luck!

  9. i've never cooked with peanut oil, but these fries look as though they have been cooked the way fries are meant to be cooked!

  10. Those are the most superb looking fries! They are BEGGING for a good steak and a bowl of bearnaise!

  11. The fries sound sensational and I have been meaning to try making my own.... I am with you completely on the road not taken. I waitressed / catered through school and university, and saw many meals scooped off the floor and back onto a plate. And don't get me started on the little butter pots on the tables.....


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