Awesome French Fries

Awesome French Fries

Who in their right mind doesn’t just love good French fries?  I do… but, I know they’re not the healthiest thing in the world for a 51 year old dude to eat, so I indulge only on occasion.   And, I normally don’t brag about my own cooking… but, right now, I’ll gladly bend that rule.  My French fries are the best on the planet!  Well, maybe not the best on the planet, but they’re damn good!  However, my fries weren’t always so hot, trust me.

An old buddy of mine used to work in a fish ‘n chip shop in Toronto when he was in high school and back then that little place had the most unreal friggin’ fries you could imagine.  But, my buddy (or, “Peckerhead” as we called him) wouldn’t tell us how they did it… he said if he told anybody, his boss would “punch me out.”  Years later, when he was living about 500 miles away from his old boss and no longer afraid of him, he told us a few of the secrets… and I’ve learned a lot on my own since then too.

There are three main elements to making great fries.  One, you must use the potato best suited for deep frying.  Two, you must use the proper oil (or one of the proper oils) and three, you need to learn the right technique.  That’s correct… there is definitely some technique required in making awesome French fries.  I’m talking about something known as the “double-fry” method.  You can’t just drop your fries into the hot oil.  If you do, they’ll end up a soggy mess.  When you bite into a good French fry, it should almost seem like it’s hollow… very light.

The potato of choice appears to be the Idaho potato, also called the Russet.  This particular potato has a high starch content and they’re very dense.  This means it has low water content making it ideal for deep frying.  Luckily, for us, the Idaho (or Russet) is one of the least expensive potatoes, normally less expensive than the red potato or the Yukon Gold anyway.

Arguably, Canola oil is most commonly used by restaurants.  First, it has a high “smoke point” meaning it can handle the high heat needed for deep frying.  Peanut oil is probably the very best choice, but it’s pricey… verypricey.  Some old time “chippy” shops in England use lard with great results, but lard too, is more expensive than Canola oil.  Olive oil is not used for deep frying because it cannot handle the heat, plus, it has the ability to change the flavour of your potatoes and we don’t want that.  Save your olive oils for stir frying and for your salads.

Step one – cut up your potatoes into the size of fries you want… personally, I always leave the skins on.  First of all because they’re more rugged that way… but, also, most people I know like the skins left on and it helps to achieve a crispy fry.  Next step, soak them very cold water (in the fridge) for an hour or so.  This will remove some of the excess starch that we don’t want.  When you’re ready to start frying, rinse them off and dry them on some kitchen towel.  (This is important because if you put water in hot oil, look out!  You could splatter that damn stuff all over your kitchen… and all over you.)

Now, for the technique – at a temperature of about 275 – 300 degree F, fry your cut up fries for about 6 or 7 minutes.  The trick here is to cook them through, but do NOT bring them to the crispy stage.   Just blanch them, or cook them so they’re nice and soft, but don’t brown them very much.  Now, remove them from the hot oil and let them rest for at least 20 minutes.  In fact, you can put them in the fridge for several hours if you like.  When you’re ready for service, bring the oil temp back up to about 375 degree F.  Drop the fires in again but this time only for a couple minutes with the intention of browning and crisping them up.  It won’t take long so watch them…

That’s the nuts and bolts to making good French fries.  But, there are more things you should know.  Here’s a little trick I learned a few years ago:  Everyone likes crispy fries… those little crunchy bits on the edges of each fry.  (The ones my brother and I used to fight over when we were little kids.  And, I mean actually fight over!)  After you’ve blanched the fries, take your fork or your spatula or your tongs, and gently “bash” the fries up a bit.  Every little spot on each fry that has been broken up will end up super crispy and delicate.  Trust me on this one… I was doing some training with some cooks of a restaurant not far from my home recently and I showed them this trick and they started using it.  Their customers loved their new fries!  “Very crispy!”  Besides, we want our fries to look home-made too, right?

Safety Tips

I use a big cast iron Dutch Oven to fry in… hard to beat them for holding the heat and over-all ruggedness.  But, you could use just about any pot, really.  Just beware of one possible danger and that is hot oil “over-flow.”  I never use a thermometer these days because I can look at the oil, hold my hand over it and know if it’s “about right” or not.  But, for the first while, until you get some experience, use a thermometer.  The type that clips on to the side of the pot work well and they are inexpensive.  The time when your oil will boil oven (onto the burner or flame) is when you first put the food into the oil.  So, to play it safe, when you think your oil is at the right temperature, slowly, using a spider (has a long handle and looks like a shallow strainer about 6 inches in diameter) or fry basket, start to place a few fries into the oil and see how it reacts.  If it seems to be okay, slowly add more… then, add the rest if you think it’s not going to boil over on you.  Just go slow at first.  Another good idea is to never fill the oil to anywhere near the top of the pot.  Give yourself a buffer.

The safest bet is to use an electric portable deep fryer, one that you plug in and place on the counter.  If you ever did have a boil over with one of these units, you’ll make a mess and not a fire… there is no burner or flame for the oil to flow on to and ignite.  I live off the grid and don’t have a lot of electrical power, so I don’t have any appliances in my kitchen.  I use my Dutch Oven on my woodstove, but I’m very careful.  Sorry if I sound like a jerk, but I have a lot of experience, so the odds of me starting a grease fire in my kitchen are basically zero.

One last note about the oil you use… you can reuse it again and again.  Either keep one pot designated for this use and leave the oil in it, or you can (once it’s cooled down obviously) pour into a container of some sort.  Eventually, you’ll need to replace the oil because it does break down in time and your fries or whatever you fry will burn quickly and your kitchen will be filled with smoke.  A busy restaurant would normally change the oil in their fryers about once every week or two.

Once your fries are all done, strain them on some paper towel and salt them right away while they’re still super hot.  They don’t hold in the oven well, so plan your meal so you can serve them right away.

“Pound ‘er down!”

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