Lord of the Fries 

How to create the perfect Freedom fry, Belgian frite or french-fried spud.

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Strolling through the small appliance aisle of my favorite SuperTarget, I’m bewildered by the choices. Who’d have thought that my quest for the perfect french fry would lead me to this state of technological confusion?

The Presto CoolDaddy does indeed look pretty cool. But then I remember my old Presto FryDaddy, which was far from satisfactory. The Waring Professional Deep Fryer has the look of the inset fryers you see in restaurant kitchens. But it’s made of brushed stainless steel, and I’d rather not spend my golden years cleaning cooking oil off of brushed stainless steel. Plus, the $129 price tag is daunting. I’m also tempted by the DeLonghi Deluxe Cool Touch Fryer and the T-Fal Magiclean Deep Fryer. Then again, the Rival CF151-W seems like a steal at $29.99. As I become increasingly baffled by the range of choices, I consider just scrapping the entire mission and going back to frying in my Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven. That is, until I recall the fire.

By the time the fire department arrived, I had smothered the oil fire and even had time to hide some grubby clothes, a half-drunk bottle of wine and a couple of dirty movies that were lying about. It’s amazing the hierarchy of chores that cross your mind when your kitchen is on fire.

I was in the midst of a french fry experiment, which required cooking batches of fries at varying temperatures and by different methods. Wine was involved. In retrospect, perhaps the wine impaired my judgment and caused me to dump too many fries into too much hot oil, resulting in an overflowing cast iron pot of oil and the quickly ensuing inferno. So in order to avoid further fiery fiascos, I’d decided to purchase a dedicated deep-fryer—one with a lid.

Eventually, I settled on the Philips Deluxe Deep Fryer with a very easy to clean removable non-stick fry pot. Anyone who does much deep-frying knows that the cleanup afterward really sucks. Most of the “dirty” bits of the Philips Fryer disassemble and can go straight into the dishwasher, making it a real winner at my house.

Frankly, I’ve been so disgusted with french fries in Utah restaurants that I’ve realized the only way I’m going to get my lips around a decent one is to make it myself. Most restaurant cooks apparently can’t be bothered to peel an actual potato and cook it properly, preferring to rely on frozen pre-cut spuds that taste like, well, frozen pre-cut spuds.

Although they are called “French” fries, most experts agree that french fries originated in Belgium. One thing everyone can agree on is that the world’s best fries are made in Belgium. If you’ve ever had Belgian frites then you know why I’m so hell-bent on creating the perfect home frites.

But the truth is, the process is fairly easy. And judging from the mountain of e-mails I received following my recent article on mussels and frites, I know there are a lot of you like me who are in constant pursuit of the Holy Grail: the well-made french fry. So I’m going to share my french-fry recipe with you, in the hope that you’ll try this at home and even more in the hope that some local restaurateurs will give it a shot.

First, there is the matter of the potato. I prefer to use Idaho Russet potatoes, since they tend to crisp better than other varieties. I especially like using Russets for skin-on french fries, since the skin is so flavorful.

Size matters. A french fry that is too thick will tend to be undercooked on the inside. Hence the grossness of so-called Texas home fries. But cut the fries too thin and they’ll overcook and burn easily. The optimal French fry size is slightly larger than a McDonald’s french fry—about 3/8 inch by 3/8 inch and 3 inches to 4 inches in length.

Start by washing a batch of small Russet potatoes and cut them into 3/8-inch by 3/8-inch sticks. I wouldn’t think of removing the tasty skins, but that’s up to you. As you cut them up, plunge the potato sticks into a large bowl of cold water. This helps to remove some of the excess starch. While you’re cutting up the potatoes, preheat cooking oil in a deep-fryer or large pot to 320 degrees. Peanut oil is the best choice for flavorful fries. But it’s also expensive, so lately I’ve been using canola oil, which works just fine.

When your oil has reached 320 degrees, drain the potato sticks in a colander and dry them well using cloth kitchen towels (I’ve even used a blow dryer for this step). Wet fries absorb more oil than dry and also tend to splatter a lot. So you’ll want to dry the potato sticks well before cooking.

Creating a great french fry requires cooking in two stages: First, cook the fries in the 320 degree oil for 6-8 minutes. At this temperature the inside of the fry begins to cook but the outside is still translucent. The fries will look very soggy. Remove the fries from the oil and raise the oil temperature to 370-375 degrees. You can wait as much as a couple of hours for the second cooking or do it immediately. Cook the fries a second time at the higher temperature, for approximately 2-4 minutes, until they are golden and crisp.

Drain on paper grocery bags, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. Fry sauce is optional.

Note: I’ve yet to find a deep fryer with an accurate thermostat, so you may need to experiment a little with cooking times and temperatures to suit your equipment.

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