Posted on May 10, 2022 in Technology

Mashed Potato Fries are Not “The Best Fries You’ve Ever Had”

For me, an ordinary person, the amount of joy I derive from my food does involve the time I spent to make it. A dish that turns out mediocre is really not so bad if it only took fifteen minutes to make, for instance. I appreciate fine food, but not every meal, or even most meals, can feasibly be gourmet. I pre-chop and then freeze an entire bag of onions to save on prep time, and it’s not noticeably different as long as the onions are cooked after.

We went through a period of time when most content creators agreed with me – meals can and should generally take about thirty minutes or less to make, or if they take more, then at least some of that time should be passive: boiling, baking, or otherwise unattended by the chef. You’re on your grind – you’re raising kids – you want to sit down and still eat later – no matter what, most people had better things to do than stand and stir a pot, and the content reflected that.

However, things changed in the online recipe sphere when it became clear that grinding towards success was often exhausting and unrewarding, post Occupy Wall Street. Suddenly, only wanting to spend fifteen minutes cooking dinner because you had better things to do after was a sign you were being exploited by the machine, so you should slow down and enjoy the process of cooking. Cooking is leisure, especially if you’re not feeding anybody else but yourself, these recipes say, so take your time.

And so entered the extreme time-waster recipes. Duck fat confit potatoes were the first really big one to hit the ‘net off TikTok, and as a result they’re the recipe with the most videos about them – Alvin from Buzzfeed’s hundred-hour brownies are a close second place, however. Do these recipes yield a result worth the effort?

Is It Actually Good?

The hundred hour brownies, by most accounts, are good but not good enough to replace box mix. Which makes sense – box mix is designed to be the perfect middle for every taste, and if it doesn’t meet yours, you can add extra cocoa powder, extra baking powder, extra chocolate chips, extra butter… basically, you can buy a bag of light brown powder from the grocery store, add an egg, spend 5 minutes of your time mixing, throw that into the oven for 40 minutes or so, and have yourself some pretty good brownies.

Or, you can spend like 40 minutes between chopping chocolate, mixing, browning butter, allowing for cooling time before mixing again, making toffee or any other add-ins for the recipe, and then allowing it to chill in the fridge for a few days before you finally have your brownies. If you started on a Monday, then on the following Thursday-ish, you’d finally get to bake and consume the brownies you made.

Similarly, for those without the somewhat dangerous kitchen item known as a mandolin, cutting thin potatoes to stack them in a bread pan and cook with duck fat is a solid investment of time, one that might actually warrant buying a mandolin! Not to mention finding duck fat for it. The dish I made this article for, mashed potato fries, may be really good, but the process of making them involves setting up a deep fry, making mashed potatoes without some of the cream etc., piping the fries into the hot oil, and then draining them while other fries cook. This is basically the steps to make churros. You also don’t get that many out of the recipe posted alongside the video. It’s not bad, it just… you can just buy a bag of Ore-Ida fries at the grocery store and pop them in the oven. If you’re actually dedicated to the deep fry, you can do that straight out of the bag too. There’s just so much work associated with making something from scratch that unless you’re allergic to peanuts or gluten-intolerant, the amount of food-to- amount of work ratio is way too low.

Fudging It

Many of these recipes also add ingredients with powerful flavors alongside techniques that get subtle results. Salt has the benefit of being a primary flavor – you may not identify the delicate notes of cherry in your wine, but if it’s salty, you’ll notice immediately. Salted caramel, in my opinion, is one of those foods you turn regular caramel into when you realize you don’t have enough cream and must substitute some of it with milk. The salt makes it both sweeter and cuts flavors of fat so you don’t have to worry about it. Salted toffee/caramel/brown butter cookies adds salt to cookies past what most Americans add, which adds complexity to the final product no matter how long it sits in the fridge past an hour or so.

Similarly, duck and bacon fat add a lot of flavor that you’ll notice at the first bite. Bacon especially is really distinct and smoky, so whatever you add it to is going to take on those smoky flavors, and while different fats have different properties, bacon fat is actually pretty similar to butter in behavior, until room temp hits 80 degrees in the summer out here in the desert.

Swapping butter for bacon fat only made the cookies and brownies slightly less stable, but it added a ton of new flavor and made the texture a smidge softer. Like salt, this is usually pretty noticeable! Meaning that even if the cookies had too much chocolate, or if the three-day recommended ferment didn’t do anything, you wouldn’t really notice.

Doing [Baked Food] but with a twist ingredient or twist time frame is an easy way to fudge out recipes when your whole deal is content creation. “We did cookies. We did three-day cookies. Have we done bacon fat cookies? Have we done three-day bacon fat cookies?” etc. can be done basically indefinitely. It’s a lot better than lying or shooting out recipes you’ve hypothesized but didn’t have time to test, but it’s still a product of the content creation machine. The duck fat potatoes and 100 hour brownies are just the latest output.

Living Vicariously

And of course, there’s the final element to these videos: living vicariously through the content creator instead of trying to make or find the food item yourself. Imagine the kind of life you’d need to live to not only make those duck fat potatoes, but also film the process and then get to eat them. They say that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s the kind of life these people seem to lead, one where you can spend all day cooking and eating fancy food, and get paid for it when you get views.

Most people don’t want to drop however many hours go into these recipes. Sometimes the ingredients are hard to find or expensive, like duck fat. Sometimes the skills in the video are a little above the skills of the person watching. No matter what, though, the people making these insanely long wait-time recipes have a level of freedom to their content making that most people can only dream of, including other content creators.