One Potato – Two Potato

By Beacon Staff

Whenever I’ve mentioned French fries in this column, I’ve written mostly about the condiments to serve with them. Now it’s time to get specific about how to make the perfect French fry.

You really don’t need a deep fryer set-up like the ones you see in restaurants. You can do this in your home kitchen, but the one tool you will need if you don’t currently have one is a candy thermometer – one that is manufactured so that it can measure the temperature of the fat. These usually have a clip mechanism so that they can be attached to the side of a pot to keep the bulb immersed as it measures the temperature of the oil (or candy).

It’s also important to choose the right kind of potato for frying and in my book there is none better than the russet because it has a high starch content that will help you attain a crunchy exterior and a tender interior.

This next step applies to any kind of frying or sautéing: you need uniform pieces. This ensures even cooking and that all of those pieces of food finish cooking at the same time. So if you don’t have a French fry cutter, do your best to cut the potato evenly. For shoestring fries, it’s the technique of julienne. For regular size fries, it’s the technique of batonette.

Give your potatoes a couple of good rinses after letting them soak in water for a while. This step accomplishes two things: first, it helps take away some of the starch that can impart a gummy texture to your fries as well as remove a kind of barrier so that excess moisture can escape in the form of steam. And second, this will help the raw potatoes from turning brown.

Great French fries are fried twice. The first frying is at a low temperature – a sort of blanching process – at 300 degrees. You’ll want to see the potatoes turn a pale golden before removing them to a rack so that excess grease can drip away from the potatoes. I arrange a regular cooling rack on top of a paper towel lined baking tray. I do not dump the fries onto the paper towel either in the first fry or the second.

While the fries are draining from their first swim in the oil, raise the temperature on the stove so that the thermometer registers 350. It’s during this second frying session that the potatoes will turn a darker brown and crisp up.

Once again, do not drain them on paper towels or a brown paper bag. Use that rack on top of a paper towel lined tray again.

And while the fries are still hot, that’s when to season them with salt (and pepper if you choose). Seasoning will stick better to the fries because there is still a film of hot oil on them. Once they’ve drained and cooled some, the seasoning won’t hold.

Follow these instructions and I promise perfect French fries every time. But something’s still missing.

What do you do with the oil you used?

The fact is that oil can be used several times if it is filtered and stored correctly. This is especially true of oils that have higher smoke points, like peanut and saffron oil. Eventually (like maybe the third or fourth time), you’ll have to dispose of it.

To filter your frying oil, use a regular metal strainer (to catch any large pieces of food), then a coffee filter or piece of cheesecloth (triple thickness) that lines a funnel (for the smaller pieces that got through the strainer), and pour it through this multi-piece filter into a colored glass bottle (like an empty wine bottle) or a clean coffee can. Make sure that whatever vessel you use can be sealed. Oil doesn’t like light or air. The air can make it go rancid and the light can accelerate chemical decomposition.

When you go to reuse this oil, make sure you add some fresh oil to it.

Check with your municipal waste disposal authority for recommended disposal methods.

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