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Crunchy Potatoes

by Irving Beilin Chang

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Fall Volume: 2008 Issue: 15(3) page(s): 26

What vegetables do northern Chinese eat in winter? During the winter months in Dongbei, which was once known as Manchuria, in Inner Mongolia, and in other northern areas of China when fresh vegetables are scarce, the populace prepares a large deep dry chamber in the ground. They make theirs below the frost-line in order to preserve fresh vegetable crops such as cabbage and potatoes. It keeps them from freezing.

The potato is one of the main year-round crops. Besides eating them mashed and in soups, they fry this vegetable. They also make them tasty and popular by preparing the potatoes in crunchy shoe-strings. Some like them spicy red-pepper hot, others prefer theirs vinaigrette and salty. The following recipe is the vinaigrette--salty style but there is a variation added for folks who like them spicy. Fr them, one needs to add the hot spicy optional ingredients of red chili oil and hot shredded green pepper with the vinegar mixture. The addition of vinegar gives the potato strings a crunchy texture and it helps so that they do not clump together. The hot peppers, you know what they do.
Shoe-string Potatoes, Chinese Style
1 and 1/2 pounds potatoes
1/4 to 1/2 cup peanut oil
1/2 or 1 whole star anise
3 Tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse salt 1/2 teaspoon chicken accent, MSG, or chicken bouillon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 ounces shredded Jinan or Virginia ham
1 green hot pepper, minced, optional
1 teaspoon hot red oil, optional
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Peel the potatoes, then shred them with a Benriner (see note below); it cuts them into very thin sticks.
2. Soak these strings in cold water for one to two hours to reduce the starch in/on the potato strings; then drain, and the potatoes are ready for use.
3. Heat peanut oil in a wok or deep pan using medium heat. Add the star anise and stir until it turns black. Remove it with a slotted spoon and discard. Then, add the potato strings, and immediately add vinegar, salt, chicken accent or a substitute, sugar, and shredded ham and stir this mixture vigorously.
4. Add the sesame oil just before serving, and do serve them hot, warm, or cold. Keep in mind that the total cooking time should not be more than three minutes, not a minute longer.
Note: A Benriner is a Japanese tool used to thin slice or shred items. It is often used for the preparation of sushi. It is equipped with one or more horizontal blades for slicing and a medium- or large-toothed diagonal blade that slices and sheds at the same time. The medium tooth blade has about two dozen teeth and it is only a mite wider than two inches. This blade shreds the potato into very thin strips, sometimes called shoe-strings.

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