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 pre-heating 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?
When Lara Lee was travelling 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.
“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 in the video above.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
For close to a decade, whenever you’ve stumbled on a recipe that shocked you or taught you something memorable—much like Lara’s potatoes will, from here on out, have me reaching for new sauces my crispy potatoes can drink up—you’ve been generous enough to send them my way.
You’ve fueled the Genius column and cookbooks, which is why I’m asking for your help once again. I’m knee-deep in the next cookbook—for beginners!—and there are a good handful of recipes I’m still on the lookout for.
If any on this list jump to mind—from a cookbook, a blog, an Instagram post, wherever—please share them in the comments below or at [email protected]. As always, I’ll thank you by name in the book for the tips that make it in. And even better, we’ll all get to trade tips and stories in the comments like last time.
1) Overnight oats or muesli
2) Other quick workday breakfasts (bonus if they’re vegan or vegetarian)
3) Huevos rancheros, migas, or other new life for stale tortillas
4) Dutch baby or other puffy pancakes
5) Make-ahead strata or other low-stress breakfasts for a crowd
6) A big-batch cocktail
7) Dinners faster than ordering takeout (that aren’t noodle-based)
8) Set-and-forget soups/stews/etc. that are still ready in an hour or two (not eight)
10) The best dinners with canned fish
11) A stir-fry (preferably vegetarian)
12) Last-minute sauces and schmears
13) A sheet pan dinner that works every time (and is truly one-pan, and doesn’t sneak in extra washings of said pan)
14) A genius garlic bread (I love this one but I usually want the garlicky part toasted, too)
15) Side dishes only slightly more elaborate than buttering a bag of frozen peas
16) Homemade brownies as simple as the boxed kind
18) The laziest desserts that aren’t just opening a bag of Tate’s
19) Any other recipes that made a big impact on you when you were first starting to cook
20) Any other recipes you make constantly, and never want to stop making