The quality of French Fries made at home is typically inferior to that found in places like McDonalds® or a few good restaurants. Even typical restaurants often make inferior fries. The home cook usually encounters two problems … the outside of the fries is too dark by the time the interior is cooked, and, the fries tend to become limp and greasy instead of crisp as they cool. Both of these problems can be eliminated by using some of the tricks used by McDonald's® and other savvy frying experts. There is a special recipe and research article in the New Recipes and Research section of Food Nirvana, which is the last Food Nirvana section of the web page. Within that area you will see a link for making so-called Perfect French Fries. Give it a look and you may decide to follow that recipe. It is similar to the recipe below but uses higher starting frying temperatures and less oil vs. the amount of potato being fried. Best of all, I tried it and it is better than my (now old) recipe was before. I didn't trash my recipe but the new one below has useful improvements to my old recipe, so I have made this version my official recipe. I do disagree with the recommendation in the research article to heat the oil to 400ºF, for I prefer processing less potato pieces in more, lower temperature oil, to enhance control of the frying process and thus help the cook see when to remove the fries from the oil, at the optimal time(s).
First, use fresh Russet potatoes. Peel them and cut them into strips no more than 1/4" thick … they can be wider than 1/4" if you want but not thicker, and of whatever length you have based on the size of the potatoes. Many of the better recipes recommend strips ¼" by ¼" to assure quick frying and crisp results, which I prefer. That is also exactly what is done by McDonald's®. Rinse the strips in cold water.
Recently I decided to find a machine to process whole russet potatoes to make raw french fries of the perfect size in large quantities so that I could vacuum seal and freeze the fries after the initial frying, and have them available any time I wanted them, quickly. I found exactly what I was looking for at www.kegworks.com and a picture of the machine that I bought from them is shown below. It cost $68 plus $12 shipping and it is excellent. I determined that the machine pays for itself after making 50 medium size individual serving bags of French Fries at home vs. buying them at McDonald's®. You definitely will want to consider purchasing the machine as a labor and time saving device that creates many cut raw fries of the perfect size, quickly, if you scale up your production as I have. Yes, uniformity is important for consistent perfection, and reducing your labor is very important to making cooking fun.
Do note that the picture shows only the machine and not the 1' by 2' by 3/4" board and the 3, 1 1/2" by 1' by 3/4" slats in three places under the board to receive screws and keep the board level, that I used to mount it. Why mount it? The force you apply with the long lever when you push a potato through the cutter requires something to hold the machine in place. Each leg/foot has a mounting hole so I suggest mounting it as I did and later using two, 4" "C" clamps and a 1 1/2" by 12" by 3/4" piece of wood and fastening the back end of the machine board, temporarily, to a counter top, before using it. The machine board and the slat are used in combination to sandwich the countertop so that the "C" clamp does not touch the countertop directly, which potentially could damage it. The machine directions recommend that it be mounted directly to a counter in a restaurant kitchen, but my temporary attachment method makes more sense in the home environment.
Second, use peanut oil if you want the best fries. Corn oil and soybean oil will work okay as long as you keep the oil temperature at or below 380ºF, but the best taste comes from using peanut oil. I buy peanut oil in bulk at Costco® and thus I keep the price low. In addition, the peanut oil can be reused many times provided you use it only for the fries and avoid saving anything but the clean oil after it cools. Avoid the gunk in the bottom of the frying pot. I put my used oil in labeled quart canning jars, and I typically use it three or four times and then throw it away. Thus, you save money both by buying peanut oil in bulk (about four gallons) and by judicious use of the oil.
Third, parboil the potato strips before attempting to fry them. This will remove excess starch, which tends to burn in hot oil, and, parboiling gently for only up to ten minutes will not hurt the potatoes ... provided you use vinegar, for without it the potatoes will turn into mush. They will still be firm and flexible when cooled and dried after parboiling when you parboil them with some vinegar and salt in the water, but they will no longer be raw, so they will fry quickly.
To parboil, cover the rinsed strips from two extra large cut potatoes with fresh water in a two quart saucepan. Add one tablespoon of sea salt and three tablespoons (1 1/2 tbsp. per extra large potato) of rice vinegar or distilled white vinegar. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil on high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to simmer and partially remove the lid. After ten minutes, remove the cut potatoes to a strainer or remove them with a wide scoop utensil with holes in the bottom, to eliminate excess water, and then let them dry on paper towels or on clean dish towels, with the individual pieces separated from each other to facilitate even and sufficient drying. The parboiled potato strips are now ready for frying. Note: If you are preparing a large quantity of French Fries then put small batches of raw cut fries into an already boiling/simmering large pot of water, vinegar (scale the amount up to 1/3 cup per quart of water) and salt and remove them after ten minutes of simmering to a dry paper towel to absorb the water, or, to a drying rack. As before, give the hot potatoes about ten minutes to evaporate water and become dry. You may add a small additional amount of vinegar (one tbsp.) to the boiling water after each two batches of potato strips have been parboiled if you are using the saucepan method instead of the pot and also doing more than four extra large potatoes.
Heat the oil to 380ºF in a deep fat fryer or to about 385ºF and a depth of 5" less than the top of a large pot. Use a frying or candy thermometer if you are using the large pot method. It is best to fry smaller amounts of cut potatoes as that will avoid cooling the hot oil below optimum frying temperature (about 350ºF). I suggest heating one quart of oil minimum for each serving of parboiled potato strips you want to fry in one batch. Your deep fat fryer or pot size will be the limiting factor, so you will know how to limit your batch size.
Fry each batch for one minute and check the color of the fries. They do not have to be tan in color. Actually, it is best if they are light blond in color. If your oil cooled below 340ºF you may have to extend the frying time by another minute. Remove the fries from the oil with a slotted spoon or similar tool, allowing excess oil to run/drip into the pot, and then cool the fries on a paper towel or on a cookie cooling rack over a cookie tray, separated from each other. You can recapture excess oil with the second method, and that becomes important when you are frying many batches. Remember to heat the oil back up to 385ºF, if using a pot, before starting the next batch. If the temperature tends to go too high then reduce the heat under your pot. Deep fat fryers typically have automatic temperature control. When all your batches of parboiled potato strips have been fried and cooled, then freeze the fries.
I freeze the fries in a deep freeze, in layers, on paper towels on cookie trays and then I later vacuum seal individual portions for long term freezer storage. It sure makes life easy going to the freezer any time I want and taking out as many single portion packages of frozen fries as I need for the occasion. If, like me, you vacuum seal the fries you can expect them to be perfect if kept in a deep freeze for easily a year or longer. That basically means you will likely learn to bulk process potatoes from peeling through the first frying, which is a great labor saver, and then you can eat fries many times without having to do anything more than drop the frozen fries into hot oil for the second frying. You can also skip the second frying by defrosting the fries in your microwave oven and then baking them, separated from each other, on a cookie cooling rack above a sheet of aluminum foil in a 350ºF convection oven for 15 minutes. There is some sacrifice in flavor using the baking method, but also lower fat content in the finished fries.
When you are ready to use the frozen fries, heat the oil to 380ºF and put each batch into the hot oil for a second frying. This time remove the fries when they have a light tan appearance, after about three minutes, and drain excess oil from them with paper towels. Salt them lightly. Place each batch into a 200ºF warming oven on a drying rack or on layered paper towels on a plate until the last batch is made.
Note that the second frying is also started at a high temperature. This provides for the reheating of the frozen fries and you have the opportunity to observe the frying so that you can remove the fries before they become too dark. The second time around the oil temperature will go below 350ºF because the fries were frozen when immersed in the hot oil. This is fine, for your control of the frying is much easier at lower temperatures, such that you can see exactly when the time is right to remove the completed french fries from the hot oil. Do try, however, to keep the oil temperature at 325ºF or more during the second frying.
There is a very different frying procedure you can use when you are making only one or two servings of fries that is very convenient and which works well. Starting with the frozen fries simply open the pack(s) and put them into a skillet, separating the frozen fries from each other and aligning them in one direction and spreading them out to minimize the height of the group of frozen fries in the skillet. Then add enough room temperature peanut oil to barely cover the fries (but make sure you have at least one inch of skillet height above the top of the fries and oil mixture). Don't be surprised to see some of the oil partially solidify around some of the fries, due to the cold temperature. Now heat the oil and fries over high heat until they begin to bubble actively, then reduce the heat to medium and allow the fries to finish frying without any consideration of frying temperature. Simply observe the fries and when they are a light or pale tan color remove them from the oil, let them drain in a pre-warmed bowl on a paper towel or towels, salt them lightly and turn off the heat. You will be amazed. The fries come out crisp and excellent using this method and it is much easier to do than the high temperature method that uses an abundance of oil, but it is suitable only when making a few servings, else you have to do multiple frying batches. In other words, if you are making more than four servings use the standard high temperature frying method described earlier.
When you are done frying and ready to eat the fries, again salt them lightly and serve them hot. Let each person decide if they want more salt or ketchup or vinegar to enjoy with the fries. Some people even use mayonnaise or pepper. You will have happy guests as your French Fries will be attractive, uniform in color and crisp and not burned, and, they will taste great.
You have likely guessed that it is the second frying that results in the fries staying crisp instead of becoming limp. And by now you know that the parboiling allowed you to limit the frying time for finishing the cooking of the interior of the French Fries, so they do not come out too dark. The insides of the fries should be fluffy. The freezing process helped break down the interior of each fry to support more rapid loss of water in the second frying, thus the fluffy interior.
Note: The flavor of the fries can be enhanced even further if you use a seasoned batter coating prior to the second frying or a dry spice application after the second frying. See the seasoned coatings recipes below.
French Fries with a batter coating:
Prepare the following batter using any one or more of a number of spices in the amount shown below: (Old Bay® Seasoning, Cajun, Mrs. Dash®, Blackened seasoning, crushed peppercorns, etc. … Whatever you want to try is fine … So try multiple batters and pick out the one(s) you like best).
½ cup of water
½ cup of flour
1 tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Pepper
2 tsp. Spice
Mix the batter. If it is too thick then add a tablespoon of water and mix again. Repeat as necessary to develop a fairly thin batter that will mostly drip/run off a fry quickly.
The time to use the batter is just before the second frying. Dip each fry individually and let excess batter run off, then put the fry into 350ºF hot oil. Note the lower starting temperature. The lower temperature keeps the batter from burning or becoming too dark. Do this for each fry to avoid having a bunch of them clump together during frying. Remove fries individually when the color indicates that they are done (light to medium tan). Keep a close eye on the oil temperature as frying fewer fries has less of a cooling effect and the oil temperature can become way too high very quickly. If that happens then turn the heat off and continue to do the fries and then turn the heat to a low setting once the oil temperature is back to 350ºF. Drain excess oil off using paper towels, and then keep the fries crisp and warm on a heated platter in your oven until they are all done.
Another variation is to sprinkle seasoning on the fries after frying. That method will produce a more intense spice flavor. Some restaurants offer fries dusted with Old Bay® Seasoning. Use your imagination.
Enjoy … Join Weight Watchers®!!!