One of the things we’re known for at Rouge is our fries (or as we say on our menu, our pommes frites). Long, skinny, with a bit of skin left on, they’re served hot and crisp, browned on the outside with a creamy white interior. While I don’t want to sway people from coming here to enjoy our great fries, french fries don’t have to be restaurant fare only. In fact, fries are one of the few things from my menu that I do make at home, mostly because they’re a favorite of my five-year-old son.
French fries aren’t hard to make. It’s the large amount of oil needed to fry properly that freaks people out. But as long as you leave some room at the top of the pot, deep-frying causes less mess than pan-frying, something most of us do without a second thought.
The ample oil actually makes the fries less greasy because it cooks them more quickly and consistently; the temperature won’t lower too much when you add the potatoes. You can also reuse the oil at least once: let it cool before straining it through a fine-mesh sieve into the container in which it came and then store it, covered, in the refrigerator. To dispose of it neatly, pour it through a funnel back into the same container and toss the whole thing out.
Cut potatoes long and thin and soak them well
For great fries, you need to soak the julienned potatoes in water for at least eight hours but preferably 24 hours before frying. This means you have to plan ahead, but it also spreads out the little bit of work required.
Use baking potatoes for frying, and leave the skin on. I like russets, which are also called Idahoes, for their texture and potato-y flavor. I also like the dramatic length you can get from these potatoes. Don’t bother peeling them—the contrasting bit of skin left on the end looks and tastes great—but do scrub them well and cut out any eyes or dark spots.
At the restaurant, we use the largest julienne setting on our mandoline to cut the potatoes into long lengths about 1/4-inch square at the end. If you have a mandoline or other mechanical slicer but it doesn’t have such a setting, use it to slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices, and then cut those by hand into a 1/4-inch julienne. At home, I cut the potatoes entirely by hand using a large, sharp chef’s knife. To keep the potato from rolling, cut a thin slice off the length of the potato, and then lay the potato down on that side for a steady base.
Soak the potatoes at room temperature and dry them well. I had always presumed that the soaking step simply washed away any excess starch, but food scientist and Fine Cooking contributing editor Shirley O. Corriher offers another reason: to plump up the cells within the potatoes to result in an improved texture.
Keep the soaking potatoes at room temperature rather than chilling them to prevent the starches from turning to sugar, which would make the fries brown before they’re cooked. You also want to be sure that they’re dry before plunging them in the oil. For one thing, the excess water would lower the temperature of the oil and produce greasy fries.
Frying twice gives you the best texture
The uncontested, hands-down best way to make french fries is to fry them once at a lower temperature to cook them through and then again at a higher temperature to brown and crisp them. If you simply plunge the potatoes into oil hot enough to brown them, they’ll look great but will be hard and uncooked inside. If you cook them at a lower temperature until browned, the water inside would steam away before the potatoes are browned, creating greasy fries.
The double frying also takes the pressure off the cook. You can give the potatoes their initial fry, which is also called blanching, a couple of hours ahead of the second fry. (They’ll look pale and limp, but they get rejuvenated in the second fry.) When you want to serve them, simply reheat the same pot of oil and fry the potatoes briefly. Because the potatoes are already cooked, all you have to do is take the fries out of the oil when they’re golden brown.
A couple of tools make frying a breeze. If you don’t have one, get a frying (or candy) thermometer to track the oil’s temperature; they’re inexpensive and come in handy for many other recipes as well. A Chinese skimmer works great for fishing out the fries; a slotted spoon works, too, but less efficiently. You’ll also want to have a cooling rack handy for draining the french fries. Tongs are also helpful during the blanching to test the doneness of a single fry, the best method being to let the fry cool a bit and then taking a bite.
Salt the fries right out of the pot. At the restaurant, we sprinkle them with finely ground sea salt and black pepper; the latter is a personal preference. Season the fries as soon as they’re done; the seasonings cling best then. The fries taste best served at once.