French fries—despite the Gallic monicker—are among America’s most beloved treats. But I think of them as restaurant food, above all—fast food places, coffee shops, lunch counters, upscale California grill restaurants, bistros of all sorts. They are ubiquitous in American restaurants…and rare at home. Why? Because, I contend, home cooks are not pleased with the results they get when they haul out the deep fryer. It’s frustrating to discover that McDonald’s makes fries vastly superior to yours. Restaurant fries are often light, crispy, airy, with what I call an irregular, “nubbly” texture on the outside. Home fries are usually slick and smooth on the outside, lacking texture interest, just a fried potato stick with no magic. Until now. Stealing a secret from the fast-food industry, I have devised the following recipe—in which the fries are actually cooked three times: they are boiled first, to make them more interesting in texture, then fried twice, as per the classic french-fry recipe. With so much handling, you must exercise care, lest the potatoes break. But the effort is well worth it; these fries are as good as any restaurant fries in America.
Makes enough french fries for 4 people
5 large russet potatoes
2 tablespoons table salt (plus coarse salt for sprinkling)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 quarts vegetable oil
1. Peel potatoes, and trim each one into the shape of a rectangle. Cut the potatoes, the long way, into broad slices that are about 3/8″ thick. Then cut each slice into French fries that are about 3/8″ wide. (It is important for the size of the potatoes to be correct for the cooking process to work perfectly. A French fry cutter that yields 3/8″ fries is a good investment.) Hold the cut potatoes in a bowl of cold water until ready to use.
2. Place 3 quarts water, the 2 tablespoons of salt and the 2 tablespoons of sugar in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Add the fries to the boiling water, let the water return to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat so that the water comes to a gentle boil. Cook the potatoes for 7 minutes, or until they are quite soft but still holding together. You don’t want to make mashed potatoes, so check the potatoes during the last few minutes of the boiling period. Remove them with a wide, slotted utensil (what chefs call a “spider” would be ideal), and place them on paper towels in a single layer. Bring to room temperature (about 10 minutes.)
3. When ready to do the first fry, heat oil in a deep, heavy, straight- sided pot to 250°F. Using your hands, carefully place a small batch of fries on a spider (or another wide, slotted utensil), making sure not to break them. Slowly lower the spider into the oil, drop the fries in the oil, and cook them for 2 minutes. After removing them from the oil with the spider, place them on paper towels in a single layer. This step essentially blanches the potatoes, so there should be very little color. Repeat with the rest of the potatoes, in small batches, until all of the french fries have had a first fry.
4. When ready to serve, heat the oil to 350°F. Using your hands, slowly remove a small batch of the fries from the paper towels without breaking them and place them onto the spider. Slowly lower the spider into the oil, drop the fries in the oil, and cook, stirring occasionally to insure even browning. You want the French fries to have a deep golden brown color, and for the surface to be a little crinkly; this should take about 3 minutes. Remove them from the oil with the spider and place them in a single layer on a baking pan lined with paper towels. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Repeat with the remaining fries. Serve immediately for maximum crispness-but if you’re holding the first batch or two, hold the completed fries in a 300-degree oven.
Note on Freezing: After completing step three of the process, the first frying, you can place the fries on a baking pan in a single layer and freeze them. Once they are frozen solid, place them in an airtight freezer bag and keep them frozen until you need them. To cook them, thaw the fries in the refrigerator, then fry them using the directions in step four.
This recipe is from my book It’s All American Food.
Photo courtesy of www.merelymarie.com