Homemade french fries aren’t the easiest dish to make, nor the most nutritious. But they’re fabulous tasting, and you can experiment until you find the way you like them best. Apparently Bobby Flay agrees with me about a couple of things: if you use oil, the oil to use is peanut oil, and soaking the fries before you cook them is key to keeping them crisp. Soaking gets rid of some of the starches and sugars that prevent fries from cooking up golden and crisp. Of course, if you like them soft and a bit on the oily side (which is especially good if you leave the skins on), don’t soak them.
French Fries: going from good to great
Here are some more tips for making the best french fries at home:
- Use Idaho or Russet potatoes.
- Soak them for about half an hour in cold tap water (some people recommend ice water). Then remove them and pat them dry.
- Leaving the skins on is a matter of taste preference, but the skins are where many of the nutrients are found, so leaving them on means more Vitamin B-6 and other potato nutrients end up in your fries. If you do leave them on, clean the skins thoroughly with a scrub brush of some sort. (This is just good practice with vegetable skins in general – skins are usually where the best nutrients will be found, but also where bacteria tend to live.)
- Lard rather than oil actually produces the best-tasting fries. Many people react to this news with horror because we’ve all been told for years that animal fat is evil and vegetable fat is much less evil. The truth is, scientists are a long way from fully understanding fat and its role in the diet and body, and it may not be that simple at all. But in any case, fries are never going to be health food. If you only eat them occasionally, it shouldn’t matter that much what oil or fat you use.
- Pour loads of oil or fat into your deep fryer or whatever sort of deep pot you’re using. Don’t worry: most of this oil will end up in the fries, and can in fact be stored and re-used at a later date. But you need a lot of the fatty liquid to get the fries to cook up right.
- Heat the oil to 350 degrees, or a little bit less. If your oil starts smoking, it’s turning into trans-fat and you should turn down the temperature a little.
- As I mentioned above, you can reuse the oil – a few times. Restaurants often keep reusing it until it’s rancid, which is gross, unhealthy and nasty-tasting. After cooking your fries, let the oil cool in the pot, strain it back into its container through a coffee filter or similar porous material, and then store it in your refrigerator. This is not only a money saver – reused oil can make the next batch taste even better. (Several resources recommend only reusing the oil ONCE. In my experience, you can reuse it more than that – you can smell when it’s turned rancid, at which point you obviously want to stop. But if you’re at all unsure, just stick to reusing once only. You’ll be saving some money without the slightest risk of using rancid oil.)
- Cook them in small batches! Don’t pour your whole mess of sliced potatoes in at once. Dump in a small batch of uncooked fries, pull them out when they’re as brown as you like, and put them on a paper towel to cool and lose some of their grease.
- Salt them while they’re still hot. Salt doesn’t stick well after they’ve cooled a little.
- If you prefer them less greasy, you can pat them with another paper towel to blot off some of the excess. I actually like this method because it makes them so crispy and wonderful. The surface grease adds nothing to the eating experience, in my opinion, so why eat it?
- Some people swear by twice-frying. You cook each little batch of fries until they’re just barely golden, and take them out to dry. After you’ve cooked all batches that much, put them in again until they’re nice and golden/brown (however you like them). I was always very happy with the results of just frying them once, but why not try both approaches and see what you prefer?
- Grocery stores have developed the appalling (but cheap and convenient?) habit of freezing and/or refrigerating potatoes, which causes them to turn sweet. If you can buy potatoes from a local farmer or a grocery store that does not freeze them, so much the better. Potatoes should be stored in the dark at room temperature or slightly cooler. Basements are ideal, but a kitchen cabinet will work too.