I’ll admit it: as much as an In-N-Out Burger (Double-Double, Animal Style) makes me weak in the knees, their fries leave me cold. I know their big selling point is that they’re made from fresh-cut potatoes; they only put them through a single frying process, which leaves them, in my opinion, tasting undercooked. Yes, yes, I know you can order them well-done, but then they’re fried to a crunchy crispness closer to those tinned shoestring potatoes I remember eating when I was a kid. Give me a fry with some heft and with that fluffy, starchy interior that will hold up against whatever you dip it in.
I’m particularly fond of steak fries–those thick wedges with the skins left on, fried a dark golden brown, and hit with a good dose of seasoned salt.
These things always seem to start with… I had a craving.
I had a craving.
A good fry starts with a starchy potato such as a Russet/Idaho potato. Why a starchy potato, over something, say, a red-skinned potato, which is a waxy (or “boiling”) potato? A starchy potato, is higher in amylose, which is a starch that takes on moisture–the water in the potato–and it will swell and take on that fluffy texture so desired in in a french fry. Waxy potatoes, on the other hand, have a higher concentration of amylopectin, which is not soluble in water, and will hold its shape. This makes a waxy potato perfect for stews and soups where you’d rather not have your vegetables fall apart.
After cutting up three medium-sized Russet potatoes, I rinsed them in cold water, which washes off the excess starch that is released when the potato is cut. These wedges were spread out on a towel after rinsing, and left to dry out a bit while I set up for frying:
Here I’ve got a heavy pot with about an inch of vegetable oil, with a medium-high flame going underneath.
The Husband (who will now be known here as “Choo” because that’s my pet name for him) bought me that fancy digital thermometer. At first, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with it–I liked my old school glass and metal guys. Then again, when I realized how many of those glass thermometers I’ve lost over the years because they’d get dropped in the sink or banged around in a drawer, I realized how great this thermometer really is. No glass to break and quick temperature readings? Totally worth the expense, especially since I do plenty of candy making during the holidays.
The second trick to a really great french fry is a double frying process. It sounds a bit like overkill, but let me explain what happens: if we were to drop the fries into a very hot oil, then we get the dark crust, but the inside will remain undercooked; if the oil is too low of a temperature, then it takes too long for the potatoes to cook, and they will start to absorb the oil (I think everyone has once in their lives encountered soggy, oil-laden fries–that’s what you get when your oil’s not hot enough). In this two-step process, the oil is first heated to 325° to blanch the potatoes. It’s hot enough to start cooking the potato through, without browning the outside:
This is after about 5 minutes of frying. It’s looking nice–not as dark as I’d like it to be, and the potato is about half-cooked: a fine start, indeed.
I didn’t need to remind you to not crowd your pan when you’re frying stuff, right? That putting too much in at the same time drops the temperature too low and you’re going to get soggy fries–you knew that already, right? Of course you did. That’s what I like about you.
These were all blanched in batches–good stuff takes a little time. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
So, after blanching, I had a devious thought.
Yes. That’s bacon fat. A very joyous thing, indeed.
Wait–are you asking why I didn’t just fry them in 100% bacon fat? The problem is that animal fats have much lower smoke points and will break down faster than vegetable oils. For the temperature and period of time that the fat needs to be held to fry a few batches of potatoes, it would just end in tears, and perhaps a call to the fire station. The trick is to add a small amount of bacon fat to the oil after all your fries have gone through the blanching process. There’s plenty of vegetable oil with a high enough smoke point (most refined vegetable oils like canola and peanut are at about 450°) that adding some bacon fat for a little flavoring won’t hurt it too much–it will drop the smoke point, but not enough where it will be an issue for cooking some french fries.
I stirred in about two spoonfuls of that bacon fat into the pot, and started on the second part of the cooking process. I turned the heat up a little and let the oil get up to about 370°, which is a perfectly good temperature to get the outside of those fries nice and brown, and to finish off cooking the insides.
Not quite there, my little pommes frites.
Oh, now we’re talking.
I made a quick dipping sauce of mayo with garlic and parsley–ketchup’s got it’s place, but not this time.