Friday, 30 March 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Pommes frites (Πατάτες τηγανιτές)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.  

Potatoes used to cost around 70 cents a kilo. But lately, people have been able to secure them for as little as 25 cents a kilo, straight from the grower, after a movement started by a group of farmers in Nevrokopi, an area well known for potato production. They decided to cut out the middlemen who were buying their produce for a low price and selling on to the retail sector who sold the potato at often three times the original price. Through the internet, they advertised and sold their product. Consumers were able to buy the quantity they wanted, print their receipt of payment, and pick up the potatoes at a scheduled delivery point by showing the receipt.

The potato movement (known as Το Κίνημα της Πατάτας in Greece) also paved the way for other producers to sell their produce directly to the consumer, cutting out the middlemen, who then had to fight for their own place within the system: to this end, they claimed that the products being sold directly through the producers were of low quality, uncertified, and therefore unsafe for human consumption.

When I produce my own olive oil, or I buy it straight from another producer known quite well to me, and I store it fresh in our basement, the last thing I need to worry about is its quality. I don't need to test it for being organic or chemical-free or pollution-free, since I know where it's produced. I know it's the best; the same thing goes for fresh meat from a small-scale local farm, my own home-grown vegetables and anything I forage or am given by friends and relatives.

french fries

The last time I bought potatoes at the supermarket, I found varying prices: potatoes from Nevrokopi were being sold at 35 cents (a direct result from the potato movement), while potatoes form Cyprus (Spounta variety) were as high as 1 euro/kilo. I chose the 70cent/kilo variety; everyone is allowed to choose what they want to buy and eat, according to their pockets and tastes. That's what the free market is all about.

The lower cost of potatoes now makes home-made fried potatoes a very cheap and Greek and frugal meal. Not that it ever wasn't in our house, with our own olive oil supplies. Admittedly, fried potatoes are just a little messy to produce, but the end result is worth it.
fried potatoes

If you really can't be bothered frying anything in a pan, you can oven-fry freshly cut potato sticks, using much less olive oil than you need for frying, and they still taste good too. I sometimes cook them in this way to save on cleaning-up time. But nothing beats home-cooked fried potato chips in olive oil. Serve with a garden-fresh salad, and some home-brewed wine. Cheap, Greek, frugal, vegan - and delicious.

For a round of fries for four people, you need: 
up to a kilo of potatoes, peeled and sliced into chips (~35-70 cents)
enough olive oil to nearly cover the potatoes in the frying pan*

Wash the chips to drain away the amylase from the potato. When the water starts to come out clear, drain the potatoes and pat them dry. Add the salt (unless you prefer to salt them after they are cooked). Heat the olive oil till it is smoky hot, then add the chips and allow to become crispy and golden. They will need to be turned once so as not to stick to each other. Preferably use a gas element; whatever you do, don't cook them in a deep fryer.

For oven fried potatoes, lay the drained dried chips on a large baking pan. Drizzle olive oil (and salt) over them, and then lay them in one layers, taking car that they don't touch each other. Cook on high heat till the potatoes become crispy and golden.
Total cost of meal for 4 people: about 1 euro; that's 0.25 cents per person. 

I've heard that the Belgians invented the pommes frites. Hmm, I wonder if beef fat can beat olive oil...

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