Recipe: The Counterintuitive, 100% Failsafe French Fry
By Lisa Fielding of Secret Ingredients
Happy New Year — and like everyone else I’m thinking less about food and more about getting back into top-notch shape. Given this bit of news one would think my recipe this week would showcase a nutritious, calorie-friendly dish such as Ligurian vegetable soup. But instead I have to share one of my favorite recipes, for two reasons: it’s a perfect recipe, and I love French fries (or frites as I refer to them when paired with a steak au poivre or juicy burger).
French fries are not easy to perfect, even with a deep fryer on hand. Lots of things typically go wrong; even if you get them crisped to a golden hue, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, they get soggy if not eaten immediately. And the other pitfall is getting the oil too hot so the potatoes burn quickly without ever achieving a crunchy exterior. I got so tired of trying to make a perfect batch of French fries on our bistro or burger night that I finally relented and started buying frozen fries. Yes, me, the chef buying frozen food.
And then I came across a recipe by Patricia Wells, a master chef and inspired cookbook writer whom I love unreservedly. Patricia and French fries don’t really go together, but apparently she loves frites, too and was also desirous of hitting the bullseye. So, with much skepticism and fear — since the first time I tried this methodology was for a client (I do like living on the edge) — I followed her directions to the letter. And voila! I achieved the most gorgeous French fry in all my years of cooking. And the best part: because of the way they’re cooked, they’re impervious to getting soggy. I’ll let Alton Brown explain the chemistry behind this, but suffice it to say, once you remove them from their boiling bath, their form will not alter in the slightest. And to reheat is just a matter of minutes in a super hot oven.
I acknowledge this defies everything you know about making French fries, since plunging potatoes in hot oil and sometimes doing it twice is a sacred cow of sorts. But trust me, this is the only way. That said, be forewarned: now that you know how to make the perfect frites, they’ll prove counter-productive to your diet plans. Oh well, there’s always next month.
Cold Fry French Fries
(Adapted from Patricia Wells)
2 pounds (about 4 large) russet potatoes
2½ quarts vegetable oil at room temperature
Fine sea salt
Two thick, clean kitchen towels; a 4-9-quart heavy-duty saucepan or cast-iron pot; a kitchen timer; a wire skimmer; (2) cookie sheets lined with paper towels.
1. Rinse the potatoes, peel them, rinse again, and cut into matchsticks. (I cut ½-inch thick slice lengthwise and then each slice receives another ½-inch thick slice so I end up with a perfectly symmetrical matchstick.)
2. Soak the potatoes in a bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes, changing the water when it becomes cloudy (at least twice), until the water remains clear. (Soaking releases the starch in potatoes, making them less rigid and less likely to stick together while cooking.)
3. Drain the potatoes and wrap them in the kitchen towels to dry. (Removing the excess liquid will speed up the cooking time and reduce the likelihood of the potatoes splattering once the oil is hot.)
4. Transfer the potatoes to the saucepan and set it over the stove. Pour the oil over the potatoes. Do not cover the pot. Set the heat to high, give the potatoes a very gentle turn with a metal spoon to distribute the oil and prevent sticking. They can be cozy.
5. The oil should move from a peppy simmer to a boil in about 9 minutes. When the oil starts to boil, set a timer for 17 minutes. Don’t worry about overboiling — the oil should boil rapidly and evenly with no need to adjust the heat throughout the entire process.
6. When the timer rings, the potatoes should have begun to take on color, turning from white to slightly golden, but will still have about 4 minutes remaining until they are fully cooked. For these last few minutes, watch them closely, stirring gently. When the fries are a deep golden brown, taste one to make sure they are crisp and firm on the outside with a creamy interior. They should not be the least bit soggy, so resist the urge to remove them from the oil too soon. When you’re happy with the consistency, carefully transfer the rest of the fries with the wire skimmer or slotted spoon to the paper-towel-lined trays to drain. Season with salt and serve immediately. If they cool, place in a 500-degree oven for five minutes. They’ll never lose their crispy exterior.
1. Use firm, fresh potatoes. Rinse and soak them well to rid them of starch. The less starch in the potatoes, the crispier the fries will be.
2. To keep the oil well contained in the pot, make sure there is at least 2 inches of room from the top of the oil to the rim of the pot.