Brow Beat

Ultra-Crispy Roast Potatoes From a Secret Cooking Club in Indonesia

Bowl of golden-brown roast potato chunks and garlic slivers, with a dip bowl of soy dressing next to it
James Ransom

Crispy potatoes steal attention wherever they go, and deservedly so. The contrast of hot, salty crunch to soft, steamy belly is as Pavlovian as it gets. No wonder we’ve been preheating our pans and fiddling with pH and chasing the singular best technique all this time.

But once you’ve got your crisping technique down—and, oh, does this recipe have it down—there’s an even more impactful frontier to cross: flavor. What if they could taste the way they crunch? What if we could match the roasted potato’s position on the zero-to–French fry scale of craveability with umami, tang, and zing?

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When Lara Lee was traveling through Indonesia writing her gorgeous new cookbook Coconut & Sambal, researching the recipes of both her own family and of home cooks and chefs all over Indonesia, she encountered such a potato, in the home of a member of a secret cooking club in Surabaya, the capital city of the province of East Java.

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“It really started as this secret society of women—which I loved—and that generous hospitality that I got all over Indonesia where everyone wants to teach you their family recipes,” Lara told me.

“The original dish is a dish called sambal goreng kentang, which is essentially a fried potato dish,” she continued. “So the potatoes are chopped, and then fried in a wok in oil, and then stirred through with a really aromatic spice paste of lots of aromatics like ginger, like garlic, and then quite often stirred together with things like liver or gizzards. … It was really, really delicious.”

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Back home in London, Lara wanted to keep the flavors and crunch of sambal goreng kentang and make it easy to recreate in home kitchens outside of Indonesia. She experimented with roasting techniques to mimic the crunch of a good fry, settling on this genius strategy: Swiftly simmer potatoes in salty water, drain, then toss them back in the pot for a couple minutes to steam-dry. Shake about to rough up the edges, then roast them hard in hot, garlicky oil. Finish with a quick, chunky stir-fry of ginger, garlic, and scallions, and a big dousing of soy sauce and rice vinegar.

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When I first saw this recipe, I had to know if the crisp would hold up through dinner against such a generous, flavorful soak and—thanks to Lara’s smart technique—it does. Like a good Buffalo wing, the dressing seeps in without softening too quickly, while the shreds of chewy ginger and sweet twists of green onion give more textures for your fork to chase.

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Lara likes to serve this with roasted or grilled meats, and I’ve had it in many week-brightening dinners with my husband’s famous fried eggs. In Indonesia, sambal goreng kentang is typically served with rice and sambal on the side—you also might want to put her potatoes in the center of the plate, since they will inevitably steal the show.

Crispy Soy and Ginger Roast Potatoes From Lara Lee

Serves 4 to 6 as a side

Potatoes
• 6 tablespoons sunflower oil, for roasting
• 1 large whole garlic bulb, halved widthways
• Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
• 2½ pounds (1.2 kg) floury potatoes (such as Maris Piper or russet), skin on and cut into 1½-inch (4 cm) chunks

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Stir-Fried Scallions and Soy Dressing
• 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
• 8 scallions, chopped into 1-inch (3 cm) chunks
• 8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
• 4½ inches (12 cm) ginger (about 60 grams), peeled and cut into long, thin matchsticks
• ¼ cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
• ¼ cup light soy sauce

See the full recipe on Food52.

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