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Food + Cooking

Stir-Fried Potatoes?

This Sichuan preparation renders the familiar tuber almost unrecognizable—in a very good way.

Do you believe there are divine standards for undercooked, overcooked, and just right? I’ve been known to say so when confronted with a beyond-well-done burger. And raw potatoes don’t meet many people’s definition of just right. But a few years ago at Grand Sichuan International in New York City, I had a stir-fried potato dish that upended my worldview. It was, in a word, crunchy. Not French-fry crunchy. Nearly-raw crunchy. It was also really, really good.

Recently, reminiscing about the experience, I realized that the best way to get down with Sichuan stir-fried potatoes (if you come from a Western baked-fried-mashed tradition) is to start by forgetting everything you know about the potato. Think of it as a whole new vegetable. It has a thin red or yellowish skin and a crisp, even-textured, usually white interior. (There is another variety, with leathery brown skin and a starchy interior, less suited for this preparation.) Kind of like an apple, but with less acidity and an earthy flavor—you might even call it an earth-apple (or pomme de terre, which happens to be exactly what the French call a potato).

You could eat this thing raw, like jicama, but it’s best served lightly cooked. Stir-frying is ideal. Cut the earth-apple into matchsticks with a knife or mandoline. Heat some peanut oil in a wok or skillet and add the earth-apple, a few dried red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, and salt to taste. Stir-fry until the vegetable just begins to lose its raw crispness, no more than five minutes and probably much less. If it becomes tender and recognizable, you have missed the point. Finish with a splash of rice vinegar and sesame oil. Serve with rice.

If you make this with Red Thumb fingerlings, which are pink on the inside, you may actually have people wondering what vegetable the crisp gossamer pink threads came from.