Having made countless batches of french fries, both at home and in restaurant kitchens, I’m convinced that real fries are best left to the pros—unless you happen to own a deep fryer. For the rest of us, the best way to indulge our appetite for the crisp, salty goodness of french fries is by making oven fries instead. These oven fries are every bit as irresistible as their deep-fried counterpart. The secret is a simple three-step process: rinse, parboil, roast.
Rinse and parboil now; roast later. Rinsing the sliced potatoes in cold water washes away surface sugars and helps the fries form a crisp (rather than leathery) exterior. A quick boil in salted water before roasting ensures that the potatoes will cook all the way through by the time the outsides are handsomely golden. This step also fluffs up the starches, making the fries less likely to get soggy. Once the potatoes are parboiled, you can let them sit for up to an hour on paper towels while you answer the door, finish the main course, serve cocktails, or do whatever else needs to be done. The idea for cooking the potatoes in two stages, by the way, comes from the British, who make the best roasted potatoes on earth by first parboiling them and then roasting them in a preheated pan at a relatively high temperature.
Heat the oven and the baking sheet. When you’re ready to roast the fries, toss them with a bit of oil (I prefer olive oil, but you could use peanut or vegetable oil) and spread them on a hot baking sheet. Thoroughly heating the oven and the baking sheet provides an initial blast of heat that helps the fries crisp evenly. Be sure to leave space between the fries so they get crisp on all sides.
Add salt while the fries are hot. The instant the fries come out of the oven, sprinkle them with your favorite salt (I like fleur de sel) or a flavored salt like the lemon-fennel salt. Oven fries are excellent with nothing more than salt, but it certainly won’t hurt to sprinkle them with malt vinegar, or to dip them in mayonnaise or ketchup.
Great oven fries begin with russet potatoes and a ruler
To get the most satisfying ratio of crunchy, salty exterior to fluffy, potatoey interior, choose high-starch baking potatoes, or russets, and cut them lengthwise into 1/2-inch square sticks or batons (a little thinner is fine, but don’t go wider). It helps to shop for long, evenly shaped russets, but don’t worry if each fry isn’t perfect; a little variation in the size of the fries is nice.