Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Best Method for French Fries at Home


The standard method for making french fries whereby the fries are cooked twice, blanched once at 350°F and fried at 375°F,  works brilliantly in a commercial setting but is a nightmare at home. Boil overs are common  and even if you don't end up with oil all over your stove top (or a grease fire!) you can count on a mess as you transport the blanched potatoes from and back to the oil. Honestly, making fries at home was such a pain in neck that I almost never did it before I had kids. After kids, well, I had to do it.

Of course, I tried everything to keep the process safe and under control. I used a fry thermometer to monitor the temperature and kept a sheet pan nearby to catch the drippings from the fry basket. That same sheet pan also served as a "dam" upon which to put the pot if it started to boil over. At one point my kids got me an electric fryer which worked well enough but when that (and a second one) died I went back to doing them in a pot on the stove top -and hating it.

Then in 2010 Edward Schneider became my hero when he published an article in the New York Times fetchingly titled An Easy Way to Make French Fries . I'm not sure why I almost immediately overcame my skepticism of his description of the method, I guess  I was so sick of cleaning up oil spills and worrying about setting the house on fire that I was disarmed. Also, after running the science of how stuff fries through my head I realized that I could not think of any reason why it would not work.  Anyway, I tried it and was so impressed by the results that it is now the only way I will make French Fries at ho;me.


Here's the basic method:
1) Cut the potatoes;
2) Put them in a pot with oil making sure they fully submerged and  are not stacked parallel so that the oil touches all the major surfaces;
3) Turn heat onto low;
4) Raise the temperature slowly until the fries are at the surface and crisp.

(How long the potatoes take to cook will be a function of how or whether or not you cut them.)

Last night I made some and recorded the process with a camera and the Thermoworks temperature data logger I use for my R&D work. You can see from the graph (above) that the fries took about 50 minutes to cook and that they were ready at a temperature of about 257 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words they were cooked and ready to eat at temperature that was about 100 degrees cooler  than standard blanching temperature. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but at temps this low boil overs (and burns by oil) are much less likely. Here is a link to a spreadsheet with most of the data from the data logger.



The method seems to have at least one drawback: It appears  to work better with fries that are pretty thick. Skinny "shoe string" type fries tend to break up during the initial heating phase. But I'm not prepared to say that it cannot be made to work. Hell, twenty years ago I would have scoffed at the mere suggestion that there was anything even remotely redeeming about cooking fries in any way other than the way I learned to do them as a teenaged short order cook at McCann's Luncheonette. Live and learn, no?


14 comments:

Jon in Albany said...

Those look like good steak fries. Possibly stupid question: why is there a 15 minute temperature plateau at +/- 220 degrees?

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Bob delGrosso said...

Jon in Albany,
I think I must have been doing something else and so had neglected to increase the temp. It's also possible that just before the dip at the end of that plateau someone opened a door and cooled off the kitchen. This was not a highly controlled experiment. I was doing a lot of other stuff while this was running. In fact, for at least the first 15 minutes of the cooking cycle I was BSing on the phone with Pardus. :-)

Jon in Albany said...

How the hell is Pardus doing? While I've never met the guy, he did teach me how to break down a chicken a few years ago. He hasn't posted in forever...you should give him shit about that. :)

Bob delGrosso said...

Pardus is too busy working to post. And, as I've discovered, it's not easy getting worked up to do this kind of fork without the hope of financial compensation.

Kevin said...

Bob, I've seen a close relative of that method discussed twice before. I think McGee wrote the first piece. I haven't tried it though.

Scotty said...

I actually abandoned the oil blanch some time ago for a water blanch and later a microwave blanch(my first job was a fast food job with Simplot style fries). This intrigues me.

Bob delGrosso said...

Scotty,
This is easier and safer than any method that includes a blanching step. I'm not going to say that it always produces the best fries, but then again I won't say that it does not.

Natalie Sztern said...

Looked at your spreadsheet and one thought came to mind - isn't the purpose of deep frying at a high temperature is so that the product doesn't soak up the oil? Or does the fact that the potatoe eventually crisps and that by crisping up, it purges the excess oil?

Bob delGrosso said...

Natalie
As long as there is water inside the potatoes AND they are kept hot they will not absorb much oil. Actually, the double fry method result in more oil absorption because the potatoes are allowed to cool down between the blanching and final frying steps.

Jeffrey said...

i tried this once after reading about the approach in cook's illustrated. did not turn out great, but then the fries were cut thin. maybe i will try again with thicker cut...

Bob delGrosso said...

Jeffrey,
I think if you cut them at least .25 inch thick they should be fine. Also be sure to raise the temperature often. I think it would be useful if someone (maybe me) would nail down how often the temperature should be raised given a batch of fries of X thickness.

Jeffrey said...

okay - i caught the distinction - to gradually increase the temperature actively during the process. as i first read it, the oil temperature will naturally rise itself, but the suggestion is to up the heat as the process continues.

seems to be an advanced heat transfer problem - maybe time for my engineering and cooking to combine!

Bob delGrosso said...

Jeffrey,
Yeah. The temperature of the oil will rise as water leaves the fries. However, if the temperature does not rise fast enough the water will hang around too long and turn the fries to mush. So the trick is to raise the temp during the cooking process to make sure the water is driven off relatively fast.