I was a pescetarian while studying abroad in Australia, which was a tricky business. Living on a small campus, and in an area that was largely suburban, there weren’t a lot of non-meat options and the most popular dishes were burgers, steak sandwiches, and meat pies. It wasn’t exactly vegetarian friendly and I ended up eating the same few meals over and over. Some things, like spinach and ricotta filled pastry, I still can’t face. But it was worth it to discover the combination of potato wedges with sweet chili sauce.
Australians use sweet chili sauce, the Thai condiment, in the way Americans use ketchup, or at least they do when it comes to fries. At almost any restaurant I could order thick-cut potato wedges that came with a side of sour cream and sweet chili for dipping. It was cheap and vegetarian and it was heavenly. That, plus the beer, was probably part of the reason I came back from that semester a few pounds heavier. I would absolutely do it again.
When I got back, I went cold turkey on the wedges and sweet chili, mostly because it was impossible to find potato wedges. Here, we serve our fries in thinner slices which is, well, it’s a problem for me. I may be the only person out there who doesn’t really like crisp and crunchy fries. I like mine just slightly crisp on the outside but still soft enough to bend easily in half. Some might even call it soggy. That preference is why wedges were so amazing to me. The thickly-cut potato wedges are designed to stay soft with just a little crispness on the edges. It’s a beautiful thing and I finally figured out how to do it – without frying that is.
Once I learned how to perfect the potato wedge, I had no other choice. I had to tackle the sweet chili sauce. Sure the stuff in the bottle is perfectly acceptable, but the homemade stuff is less sweet, more spicy, and a little tangy. You could cool the heat with a side of sour cream like they do Down Under, but I’ll take these just as they are. Salty, crispy, spicy, sweet.
Last year we ate: Moroccan Butternut and Potato Stew
Potato Wedges and Sweet Chili Sauce
Sweet chili sauce adapted from SheSimmers
Makes 2-3 servings of wedges and 1 cup of sauce
Alright, here’s the secret to baking a potato wedge that has crisp edges: soak the potatoes in water and dry them off before baking and oil the pan, not the potatoes. The water helps wash away some starch and may help steam the potato interior. I honestly don’t know for sure how it works, I just know that it does having tried it with and without this rinse. Oiling the pan helps keep the potatoes from sticking and means they have a small layer of oil to help them brown more quickly, before the inside can get mealy.
3 large baking potatoes, i.e. Russet or Idaho
3 tbs oil (you can cut this down to two but the wedges may stick)
1 tsp kosher salt
For the sauce:
2 tbs ground chili paste* (easy to find in the Asian section of the grocery store or in Asian markets)
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, smashed (but still big enough pieces to fish out at the end)
1/2 tbs cornstarch
1/2 tbs water
Preheat the oven to 450F. Wash the potatoes well (or peel them; I prefer my wedges skin-on) and slice them lengthwise in half and then each half into long quarters. Place all the wedges in a bowl and fill the bowl with water so they’re all submerged. Let sit for about five minutes.
In the meantime, line a baking sheet with foil and directly the oil and salt directly onto the foil. When the potatoes are done, drain them and pat them dry with paper towel to remove any excess moisture. This will make them crispier and help the oil stick to the surface of the potato which adds to the golden brown color.
Pour the wedges onto the oiled sheet and toss them around so they get coated in oil and salt. Then lay them out so they aren’t touching and roast for 15 minutes. Flip them around** so the side touching the foil doesn’t burn and roast for another 10 minutes or until they’re golden brown all around and a fork easily slides into the middle. Let them cool on the pan for a few minutes and then gently peel them off the foil and serve them hot but not quite mouth-burning. These are best fresh. The leftovers will keep but they’ll lose their crispness
While the wedges are cooking, prepare the sauce. In a small saucepan combine chili paste, vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and garlic. Put the saucepan on the stove on medium high heat and bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then turn the heat down as low as possible and let it steep while heated for 20 minutes. After the time is up, fish out the garlic pieces.
Make a slurry with the cornstarch and water, making sure the cornstarch dissolves fully – no lumps! Stir this into the chili mixture and turn the heat back up to medium high and boil it for a minute or two, until the whiteness of the cornstarch dissolves and the sauce is more of less translucent. Remove it from the heat and let it cool. It should keep in the fridge for up to two weeks and is delicious on everything, from wedges to pizza to frittata. It also make a great salad dressing component with some rice vinegar.
* You can use fresh chilis here, find two small red ones (pick your poison in terms of heat) and grind them up in a blender with the liquid ingredients, then proceed with the recipe. You can remove the ribs and seeds to decrease the overall heat. But I keep a jar of chili paste in the fridge anyway to spice up meals which means for me, this sauce is made from staples – always a good thing.
** The oil helps minimize sticking but they may still stick a little. If you peel them off gently you shouldn’t lose any bits on the foil.