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?