Fried foods are good foods.
Would you believe me if I told you I have spent the year of 2016 thus far developing a recipe for the perfect French fries? No, because that’s crazy (and a s***ton of fries). But here on this blog, we believe that fries are the one thing that cannot be done wrong. Never.
Fun fact about me: I rate restaurants based on how amazing their fries are. No joke. I honestly think that French fries are a staple, like scrambled eggs or pasta sauce, that everybody needs to know how to make. Luckily enough for you my friends, I’ve got a guide to show you just how to achieve the perfect fry. And just like everything else on this blog, we’re going to use science to show us the truth, the light and the way.
The first thing you need to know is that the best fries are fried twice. Yep, you heard me, TWICE. Now, we all know that the best fries are crispy on the outside, yet soft on the inside. Anybody who has ever visited McDonald’s can testify to this fact. So just how do we go about achieving this?
Step 1: Cutting the potatoes to the right size
You may laugh, you may think this trivial and unimportant, but then again, I can guarantee that you have tried to fry a big fat chunky potato wedge, haven’t you? If I’m lying, then please feel free to gloat about it in the comment section. The truth is that we have all been on either side of the chip size spectrum. We’ve all cut our potatoes so anorexically thin that they crisp up as soon as they hit the oil and eating them is like biting into twigs. We have also managed to bludgeon the potatoes into big ugly chunks that just come out soft and undercooked and bleh. So how exactly does one achieve the balance? My best piece of advice would be to buy a vegetable cutter that juliennes the potatoes into perfectly sized matchsticks. Or, if you’re a jobless broke teenager like me, then you use a CLEAN afro comb to carefully slice your potatoes to perfection.
Start by slicing your potato in half down the longer side. Then insert the afro comb at a ≅80° angle to the chopping board. After that, you just have to slide your chef’s knife in between the uniformly divided rungs of the afro comb and you’re one step closer to the perfect fries.
Step 2: Pre-frying Preparation
One thing that I know everybody does is to immediately soak their potatoes in water before cooking. If you do this, then congratulations you’re on the right track! If you don’t, then please start doing it. Here’s the twist: you’re going to salt the water very heavily. The common belief is that we are soaking the potatoes in water from them in order for them to absorb the water by osmosis and become more plump.
For anyone who’s forgotten their Form 4 Biology: osmosis is defined as the movement of water molecules from an area of high concentration (the water in the bowl) to an area of low concentration (the potato) through a partially permeable membrane (think of the potato as an upstreet nightclub. The partially permeable membrane is the tough bouncer who decides which well dressed molecules get to go in).
But salting the water heavily reduces the water concentration, so water would be tempted to move out of the potato….. Andrea, WHY WOULD WE DO THAT? I’ll tell you why, a crisp French fry is crisp because of its lack of water. If the potato remained turgid (full of water) when we were done cooking it, then the potato would be soggy and soft and bleh. So we add lots of salt, to encourage water to leave the potato so that we can get crisp fries in the end. Yay!
To heighten this effect, I add vinegar to this soaking mixture, and I also love the subtle taste of vinegar that you get after frying. What I would discourage you to do is to boil the potatoes before cooking. The high heat forces the outer membranes to break down, and this would encourage the movement of water molecules into the potato. Which is why potatoes are soft and squishy when you boil them. Save the boiling for when we decide to make mashed potatoes.
Step 3: The First Fry
Yes, I said the first fry, for any of you who still thought that cooking fries twice was a joke.
Shown above is a picture of what potatoes look like during the first fry. Notice all those bubbles? That, my friends, is water escaping the potatoes and evaporating instantly. Woohoo, that’s exactly what we want! Now this is where it gets complicated: the water that leaves the potato is replaced by hot oil that invades the potato and makes friends with the water molecules that didn’t exit the potato’s membrane. Although oil is hydrophobic, (hates water with a passion) by some miraculous action, the oil and the water for a superglue, and this strengthens the potato structure.
So what we do is to fry the potato for the first time at the low temperature of 160°C/325°F for about 6 minutes, which is when the potatoes are just starting to turn light brown, but still remain mostly white. After this, I like to quickly dry them on paper towels and refrigerate the potatoes for about 10 minutes whilst I raise the temperature to 200°C/400°F.
So the goal of our first fry was to drive water out and form the superglue that strengthens the potato structure. The purpose of the second fry is to drive any leftover water out and crisp up the strengthened structure to create the beautiful crisp outside that we know and love so much.
Step 5: Toppings and Sauces
Salt. This is an absolute necessity. If you were trying to be healthy, you passed that a long time ago when you decided to deep fry your potatoes. This post isn’t about healthy eats. My favourite things to add to my fries are paprika, mixed herbs, lemon salt, sweet chilli sauce and occasionally BBQ sauce. Little known fact about me, I can’t stand tomato sauce. When I was little, I put it on just about EVERYTHING. Even sadza. I suggest that you never attempt to put T sauce on sadza because you will regret it forever. If you’re a fan of T sauce then go ahead and pour it to your heart’s delight. I won’t say anything (out loud).
My final piece of advice would be to eat the fries whilst they’re still gloriously hot because reheated French fries are an abomination. Happy Frying y’all!
The Perfect French Fries
3 Russet potatoes, peeled and washed
About 4 cups water
1 cup white vinegar (optional)
5 tbsp salt
6 cups vegetable/canola oil- Do not use oil that has a low smoke point such as olive oil
Probably all the paper towels in your household
- Start by julienning the potatoes. This is a fancy word for cutting the potatoes into a matchstick shape. My ideal fry size is 1/4 inch thick and 4 inches long. But you can cut yours to your liking, all I would advise you to do is to not get them thicker than 1/2 inch or they may not cook all the way through.
- Fill a large bowl with the water and white vinegar. Add the salt and stir until dissolved. Soak the cut potatoes in the salt water for about 10 minutes whilst you heat the oil in a deep saucepan/deep fryer to 160°C/325°F.
- Drain the potatoes and dry them on the paper towels before frying them in the oil at low heat, for 6 minutes or until they just start to change colour. Remove the fries from the heat and drain on paper towels on a large baking sheet. Refrigerate the potatoes for 10 minutes, whilst you raise the temperature of the oil to 200°C/400°F.
- Fry the potatoes at the higher temperature for 5 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels and season immediately with salt. Serve immediately with sauces/seasonings of your choice and enjoy!
And now, a bunch of memes that perfectly describe my relationship with French fries