Golden Brown & Delicious

6 11 2007

Who doesn’t like French Fries?  And if you say you don’t, you’re a liar, a god-damned liar.  (Or crazy.)

When it comes to making fries at home, most of us suffer through those pallid frozen varieties–which aspire to acceptable at best.  Even then, acceptable seems a lofty goal.   Since most of us aren’t Paula Deen, deep frying at home is something of a chore.  To make the best fries, it’s actually a two-fry process and requires some temperature control.  First, you blanch the fries in 260 degree oil for about ten minutes, which cooks the potatoes through.  Next, you fry them in 370 degree oil for about three minutes, which makes them golden and crispy.  You can rest the potatoes in between or not, apparently the subject is under debate.  At any rate, this process is more than I want to undertake at home.  Perhaps it is the difficulty in maintaining a temperature in a pot of oil on an electric stove, perhaps it’s my basic distrust of thermometers.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Jeffrey Steingarten, famous epicurean curmudgeon, and Joel Robuchon, Culinary Genius and Food God.

I recently read Steingarten’s book “The Man Who Ate Everything“, it was a great read–and it has an entire chapter dedicated to the “French” fry, or Pomme Frite.  They are, of course, not French but Belgian–that’s neither here not there.  I owe this debt of gratitude because Steingarten includes a brilliant and simple method for creating fries that produces delicious results.

First peel and cut about two pounds of potatoes into batons.  Robuchon prefers the irregular and rustic quality of a hand-cut fry.  Next, rinse the cut potatoes under cold water to remove starch.  Then blot the potatoes dry–wet potatoes will absorb more oil.  Place the potatoes into a wide pan at least four inches deep and add just enough oil to cover.  I used peanut oil which is well regarded as a fry oil for its high smoke point and neutral flavor.  Put the pot on the stove over your highest heat.  As the oil heats it basically takes the potatoes through the blanch and then the fry in one easy step.  No thermometer necessary, just keep your eye on them and remove the fries when they are golden-brown.  Salt them as soon as they come out of the oil.

I’ve tried the recipe twice.  The first time I used a mandoline to cut the fries.  I used the largest cut available but the batons were smaller than the 3/8″ cut that Steingarten recommends.  The fries were crispy and delicious, but there was a little too much crispy outside and not enough soft inside.  I also salted them only with fine sea salt.  The next time I used a larger hand-cut fry–closer to the 3/8″ cut, but I don’t keep a ruler handy and can’t be sure.  At any rate, this cut produced a much superior fry.  The outside was golden and crispy and there was a pleasing amount of creamy potato inside.  I used a Russet, and your results will vary depending on which potato you use.  Steingarten said the Russet produces the crispiest fry, but the insides were mealy and slightly bitter.  I cannot agree with Steingarten on this call, the insides were creamy and there was no bitterness that I detected.  Robuchon likes to use two salts–a fine salt and then also a coarse salt which he likes for the crunch.  I tried this approach also the second time, using a fine sea salt and then also a coarse Grey Salt.  I can’t say I really noticed the crunch of the grey salt, but then I also noticed much of it still sitting on my plate.  Nevertheless, these were great fries.

So thank you Robuchon for developing this fantastic technique, and thank you Steingarten for sharing it with us in your book.  This will be the technique that I employ for my fries for now on.  I will only deviate–I imagine–if I get a quality deep fryer with a trustworthy thermostat.