Serious Frites

If you’ve never experienced a genuine French Fry, or their cousin, le frite Belge, then you’re missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. This is the pinnacle of frydom. What makes them so special? They’re cooked twice. That’s it; nothing fancy, but that’s the secret, the trick that makes all the difference. An initial blanching cooks them through, creating that creamy inside fry lovers love. The subsequent fry brings the other half of the golden equation into play, super crisp outsides. While it may sound fussy and time consuming, it’s really not. You can do the prep well ahead of meal time and wait until right before service to cook them if you like.

Besides, if you’re going to go to the trouble of making fries at home, you need to do it right. As one of my favorite Chefs, Anthony Bourdain so eloquently puts it, “There’s no half-assed way to make a French fry.”

Ideally, to do this right you’ll want a deep fryer. If you don’t have one, no biggy; you’ll just need a heavy soup or stock pot, a mesh basket or slotted spoon made of steel, and a decent candy or frying thermometer.

Now, there’s obvious consideration for the type of spuds used. Big old Russets are best, but you can sure do this with Yukon Golds if you like the flavor better; waxy spuds like reds just aren’t that great for fries. Take note that the age of your spuds matters as well. You want older rather than younger spuds, because the older ones have fully developed starch content and better moisture balance for deep frying.

Next question; does size matter in a fry? The answer is yes, it does. You can vary from steak fry to fast food skinny as you see fit, and anything in between falls into acceptable range. Where you want to be kind of depends on the ratio you like in your fries. If you’re a crispy fan, skinny is better; if you relish the creamy insides more, make ’em bigger. The real key is to make your fries pretty darn uniform, so that they’ll fry evenly. You don’t have to get silly about this, just pay attention some when you’re cutting. If you like things really uniform, keep your eyes out at garage sales and second hand stores for one of those nice, heavy fry cutters. They’re out there, and if they’re mechanically sound, they’re a joy to use.

Next, what oil? Peanut gets the nod quite a bit and makes a tasty fry indeed, but it’s not the healthiest option out there. For my mind, if you make fries infrequently, you can splurge, have peanut oil, (or lard, or duck fat, both of which make amazing fries), and feel no guilt. If it worries you, choose a lighter vegetable oil.

And finally before we get to the recipe, a serious note on safety. Grease fires are no joke; they happen, they’re incredibly dangerous and you don’t need to go there. Keep a constant eye on the temp while frying and never go out of the safe temp zone, (There’s no need to ever fry anything over 400° F, frankly. Keep a tight fitting lid for the pot or pan your using close at hand, and if you don’t already, (which you bloody well aughta), have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. NEVER EVER THROW WATER ON A GREASE FIRE, EVER, PERIOD! If you get a fire, cover the pot, turn off the heat, step away from the stove, grab a phone and get ready to call 911 if things don’t calm down right away.

Alright, let’s boogie.
Go with a spud per person when planning your shopping.

4 Potatoes, Russet or Yukon Gold
Sea Salt
3 to 4 cups Oil for frying

You can leave skins on if you like, but generally, you’ll get better, more evenly cooked results without them, and the nutritional benefits derived from the skins are pretty much moot when fried, so go ahead and peel your spuds.

Cut your spuds into roughly 1/2″ square by 3″ fries; again, go skinnier if you like crispy, bigger if you like creamier.

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Toss the spuds into the bowl as soon as they’re cut; this will keep them from oxidizing and turning nasty colors, as well as helping remove excess starch. Leave your spuds in the ice water for at least 30 minutes, or in fridge cold water for as long as overnight.

When your soak time has elapsed, rinse the spuds well in cold, running water to remove that starch.

Now it’s time for the blanching. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means to plunge food into, (most often), water, and in this case, oil, for a brief time, in order to do anything from softening it, to partially or fully cooking it. Sometimes blanching is done to tame strong flavor notes, as with game or onions. Nuts and fruit can be blanched to make the skins softer and easier to remove, (hazelnuts, almonds, peaches and plums, for example). Blanching is often used in restaurants to pre-cook veggies, thereby making them faster to prepare at service, and to help keep their colors nice and bright. It’s a great technique to learn and use at home. When used for these other purposes, the food is just plunged into boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute, then immediately plunged into an ice bath, (50% each ice and water), to quickly stop the cooking process.

Use enough oil in your deep fryer or pot to reach roughly halfway up the sides of the pan; never fill higher than about two-thirds, for safety’s sake.

Preheat your oil to 280˚F.

Once the oil is up to temp, cook the potatoes in one potato batches until they are soft and their color has turned to semi-translucent white. Don’t get antsy and yank ’em before you see the color change occur; this is gonna take about 7 minutes, give or take. The smaller batches make things more manageable and keep your oil from cooling too much, which leads to soggy frites. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to carefully pull the fries out of the oil and then set them out in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Let the fries rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

Raise the oil temp to 375˚F. That is right where you want it, and you want it to stay right there through cooking; this is critical for perfect Frittes. Fry the blanched potatoes in one potato batches for about 3 minutes, until they are crisp and golden brown.

Pull the fries out and shake off any excess oil.

Immediately drop your fries into a large steel or glass mixing bowl, lined with a clean, dry kitchen towel or paper towels.

Season with sea salt to taste.

Pull the towels and give the fries a good toss around the bowl to evenly disperse the salt.

Serve while they are nice and hot, never make ’em wait, never rest them; doing so leads to soft, soggy fries.

 

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