French Fries

Serving yesterday’s burgers on an empty plate just wouldn’t be right. It didn’t take much thought to decide what side dish best accompanies burgers. Obviously, I had to make French fries.

Burger and fries.

Burger and fries.

Fresh French fries are everything that frozen, fast food fries are not: crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and a true potato flavor. Contrary to what many people think, French fries are neither difficult nor particularly messy to make. A pot, oil, potatoes, and salt are all you really need. Once it is set up, large batches can quickly be made–which is a good thing, as these are fairly addicting. Not that the basic recipe needs any changing, but I borrowed a trick from Cooks Illustrated to get these extra crispy.

A big plate of fries.

A big plate of fries.

Click through for the recipe and tips on frying.

Deep frying is not hard, but the one thing that greatly simplyfies and adds a huge degree of control to the process is to have a thermometer. I have some friends who can ‘just tell’ when the oil is ready, others who throw in a pinch of flour and know how that is supposed to react. I like to be more precise and to use a thermometer (see the wire probe in the picture below). I don’t have a dedicated frying thermometer, my oven probe thermometer on a wire works perfectly. It has a temperature alarm to let me know when I reach the proper temperature and it displays a constant read of the temperature of the oil.

I use a standard ‘twice-fried’ method for cooking French fries. The first fry is at a lower temperature (around 320F) to cook the inside gently. The second fry takes place at a higher temperature (around 375F) to crisp the outside. Frying them allows for a contrast in texture: a crunchy crisp exterior and a light fluffy interior.

Frying fries.

Frying fries.

Ingredients
(serves 4)

3 pounds russet or Idaho potatoes (about 4-6 potatoes)
4 tablespoons cornstarch
3 quarts peanut oil
salt (table salt, kosher salt or popcorn salt all work fine)

Recipe

  1. Don’t bother peeling the potatoes, just scrub them and remove any of the more offensive looking parts. Cut the potatoes into about quarter inch disks, then cut those disks into about quarter inch strips (the typical French fry shape). If you have a mandolin, it makes this process go much faster (mind your fingers though–I know from experience!). Rinse the cut potatoes in cold water until the water is clear. Soak them in a large bowl of ice water. The potatoes can be made to this point and held for about 12 hours.
  2. Spread the potatoes pieces onto kitchen towels and dry them thoroughly. Dust the potatoes with cornstarch and toss until evenly coated. Let the potatoes rest for about 20 minutes, a white coating should form on them. (Separate the potatoes a bit so they are not all piled.)
  3. While the potatoes are resting, fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot with peanut oil, attach your fry thermometer or probe thermometer and heat over medium-high until 325F degrees. (I normally set my thermometer to go over at 275F to give me plenty of warning and make sure the temperature doesn’t shoot past 325F.)
  4. Add about a third of the potatoes, a handful at a time, to the hot oil. Increase heat to high to compensate for the drop in temperature. Fry, stirring to prevent the fries from sticking. Remove the fries when they start turning from white to blond, 4 to 5 minutes. They should be soft and fairly limp at this point.
  5. Transfer fries to a thick paper bag or paper towels on top of the rack. (The paper will hold the oil without letting the fries get soggy.) Return oil to 325 degrees and repeat with remaining potatoes in one or two more batches.
  6. Increase heat under the oil to high and heat until the oil is 375 degrees. Add the first batch of fries back to the oil and fry until golden brown and puffed, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to another (clean) thick paper bag or paper towels. Return oil to 375 degrees and repeat with remaining fries. Season fries with salt and serve immediately.

Other suggestions for fry seasonings: Fresh black pepper, Old Bay Seasoning, cayenne pepper, garlic salt, malt vinegar.

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