In France, any bistro worthy of the name serves excellent French fries or frites, as they’re known in that country. Restaurants there wouldn’t dream of serving customers previously frozen fries from a bag as so many do here. It makes me a little crazy that so few eateries here make their fries from scratch because it’s so easy to do.
The key to making world-class French fries is double-cooking. The spuds need to be blanched in hot oil first and then cooked in hotter oil a second time. I’ve fiddled around with dozens of different techniques for making French fries at home; here is the one I finally settled on.
Idaho russet potatoes, scrubbed – 1 large or 2 small, per person
Cooking oil – I prefer peanut oil
1. Cut the potatoes into 1/3 to 1/2 inch sticks. I leave the skins on and use a mandolin to cut the spuds. An ordinary chef’s knife will also do just fine.
2. Next, soak the potato sticks in a big bowl of cold water — anywhere from a half hour to overnight. This helps remove some of the starch from the potatoes and keeps them from oxidizing. At least one food expert — Jeffrey Steingarten — has done experiments and determined that soaking the spuds is an unnecessary step. It’s up to you. I’ve tried both ways and, maybe it’s just superstition, but I still like to give my potatoes a bath before cooking.
3. When you’re ready to begin cooking, remove some of the fries (enough for one batch) and dry them on a kitchen towel.
4. Heat the cooking oil to 305 degrees F. When the oil is hot, blanch the fries in the oil for seven minutes. DON’T overcrowd the fries, and move them around periodically with kitchen tongs to keep them from sticking together. Remove the fries from the oil and spread them out on a baking sheet. Let them rest for at least 15 minutes, but you can also blanch the fries ahead of serving time by as much as a couple hours. Repeat with additional pre-soaked and dried fries.
5. Just before you’re ready to eat, crank the oil up to 355 degrees F.
6. When the cooking oil reaches 355, fry the blanched potatoes a second time, for 2-3 minutes until they are golden and crispy.
7. Remove the fries from the oil, shaking off the excess oil and drain them. I like to use paper grocery bags to drain the fries on. Then, I toss them quickly using paper towels to help soak up any remaining oil. At this point, I sprinkle the fries lightly with salt and (optional) pepper and serve immediately.
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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