I have a soft spot for potatoes. To satisfy my endless craving for fried potatoes, I had to dive in to potato pillows. Thin slices of potato are fried until puffed and bubbly, like a voluminous pillow stuffed full with down—or even a puffy bag of unopened chips.
There are multiple paths to achieving these pillowy potatoes. The traditional French pommes soufflées use super thinly sliced potatoes that are then dried and deep-fried. As they cook, somehow, by some force of spud-sorcery, the single piece of potato will puff up and expand into a bubble. But the method isn’t foolproof: I’ve tried making this twice in culinary school, and out of two dozen slices of potatoes, only a handful ever puffed up. Even the chef couldn’t get all of his potatoes to puff.
Another method by the food YouTuber Cooking Kun takes inspiration from the traditional Cantonese dim sum dish jian dui—sesame-encrusted dough balls made from glutinous rice flour, which balloon into perfect spheres as they’re deep-fried. To apply this to potatoes, they are mashed and turned into a dough before they’re rolled into balls and fried. While this method seems to yield consistent results, the technique itself still requires some amount of skill.
Eventually I found a method that promises consistency and relative ease of technique: on TikTok, of course.
This recipe takes inspiration from pommes soufflées, but simplifies it for the home cook. Slice the potatoes thinly (preferably with a mandolin for ultra-thin slices). But then, instead of relying on a single slice of potato to magically puff up, you glue two pieces together with egg white and cornstarch. Once dropped in hot oil, the middle will bulge up (still somewhat magically) and the potato puffs will start to float. A second fry at a higher temperature crisps up the potato and ensures that it achieves maximum pillowy puffiness. You’re likely prone to some potatoes misfiring and not puffing up to their full potential. Still, it’s a fun kitchen experiment to try, and if you’re as much of a potato fiend as I am, this sophisticated spud side dish is sure to impress. —Jun
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes 15 to 20 potato pillows
3 to 5
large (about 2 pounds) russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
egg white (from 1 large egg)
Vegetable oil, peanut oil, or another neutral oil, or more, for frying
- Peel the potatoes. Trim the potatoes into as large a rectangular block as you can manage, with minimal wastage. (You can save the trimmings and scraps and turn them into mash or use in stocks.) Using a mandoline, slice the potatoes into 1-millimeter-thick rectangular strips. (I ended up with rectangles that are 2½ inches long and 1¼ inches wide, but this will depend on your potatoes—anything around that size will work.)
- Lay out half of the potato slices in a single layer on a large sheet pan or cutting board. Dust with the cornstarch on the exposed side, then use a pastry brush to remove any excess cornstarch. Lay out the other half of the potatoes on a large sheet pan or cutting board and brush each with a thin layer of egg white. Place one of the egg-white-brushed potato slices, egg side down, onto one of the cornstarch-dusted potatoes of a similar size. Press them together firmly all around so they stick to each other. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. If the sizes of the two pieces are mismatched, you can trim the sides with a knife so the pieces are even.
- Pour the oil into a large heavy-bottom pot until there’s at least 2 inches of oil and heat over medium heat to 300°F (149°C). Working in batches of 3 to 5 paired potato slices, gently drop the potatoes into the oil and fry for 60 to 90 seconds, flipping them halfway through, until blonde. The potatoes will initially sink to the bottom of the oil, but should float and puff up in the first 30 seconds. Give them a gentle nudge with a wooden spatula if they stick to each other or to the bottom of the pot, and as they puff up, continue to flip them around and agitate them to make sure they puff up and darken evenly. (No matter how you agitate them, some might not inflate to their full capacity; this is normal.) Then, remove the potatoes from the oil with a slotted spoon, spider, or chopsticks, and place them on a paper-towel-lined sheet pan to cool slightly. They will deflate as they cool. Repeat with the rest of the potatoes.
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat to 350°F (177°C), then fry the potatoes again, this time in batches of 5 to 10 (or more if your pot can fit them without overcrowding) for 30 to 60 seconds, flipping constantly, until they’re puffed and cooked to a deep golden brown. Use a slotted spoon, spider, or chopsticks to remove the potato pillows from the oil and transfer them onto the same sheet pan lined with kitchen or paper towels and immediately season with salt. Repeat with the rest of the potatoes. They’re best eaten within 5 minutes when they’re at their crackly, crispy best.