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Any Tips On Using The Combi-Oven To Offer School Foodservice Directors Affordable And Nutritious Baked French Fries?

Q:

What’s a recognized state-of-the-art method to ‘fry’ French fries without frying?

A:

According to manufacturer Rational, its SelfCooking Center (SCC) with its CombiFry Basket “eliminates the need to use oil as well as the expenses that come with it. Thick cut, shoestring, crinkle or curly, any variety of French fries are perfectly crisped in the SCC.” They also claim that the SCC can cook up to 200 servings of oil-free French fries in less than 15 minutes—and, cooked with the hot air that circulates through the specially-designed CombiFry Basket, the fries have 80% less fat than traditional French fries and 36% fewer calories.

Q: Who’s using it and why?

A: Beaumont (TX) Independent School District: Beaumont (TX) Independent School District, comprised of 29 schools with a student population of just fewer than 20,000, was “perhaps the first school district in the country to put in the SelfCooking Center,” notes Pat Baker, RD, LD, the district’s director of food and nutrition. “Potatoes come out very crispy on the outside and soft and mealy inside without the taste and smell of grease,” she asserts. “You break open a French fry and it steams and is gorgeous—plus, the cooks don’t’ go home smelling of grease and the kitchen is cleaner. Not to mention that we know we’re in line with the USDA guidelines.”

Baker and her staff prepare an array of potato offerings from Tater Tots and wedge fries to shoestring and crinkle cut French fries. Fresh potatoes are cut in half with the wedge side down, she explains. To prepare, a staff member first sprays the pan with a very little bit of olive oil, then puts seasoning on the pan so the bottom of the potatoes will be crispy and seasoned. Garlic or onion powder, parsley or oregano flakes plus salt and pepper are often utilized but sometimes the staff substitute’s steak seasoning or a dry Ranch seasoning mix which is actually the most popular at Beaumont.

“Nothing pleases kids more than French fries and here they like steak fries best,” Baker says. “They come to us frozen, blanched and seasoned from the manufacturer. But the oven doesn’t care if they’re blanched or raw or pre-seasoned—they always bake up golden with no brown spots so they’re consistently pleasing to the eye. We’re now building nine new schools in the district and all will have these ovens.”

On occasion, potato casseroles are prepared from frozen sliced or diced potatoes combined with a chopped vegetable, reduced fat cheese, onions, peppers, sour cream and a bit of margarine. “We’ll top the casserole with cornflake crumbs or dry bread crumbs—you just can’t do anything to a potato to ruin it,” Baker enthuses.