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Fries / Chips / Frites -- eG Cook-Off 45


Pam R
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Welcome to the eGullet Cook-Off XLV! Click here for the Cook-Off index.

After our recent braised brisket and ossobuco Cook-Offs, we thought it was time for a change. We're going from soft and succulent meat to crisp and crunchy fried potatoes. Whether you call them fries, frites or chips, it's time to get the deep fryer (or pot of oil) going.

Fries are a popular topic in the eG Forums. For a seemingly simple dish, there's a lot to discuss. First, we need to know what kind of potatoes to use. The standard seems to be the Idaho potato, but I prefer a good red, while some of our members like to experiment with sweet potatoes.

Next, what kind of oil do you use? Peanut, canola, soybean? Is there a difference? How about duck fat?

Then there's the method - fry once? Fry twice at different temperatures? Do you peel them, soak them in water, use a deep fryer or a pot of oil? Now is the time to try the Robuchon Method if you haven't yet.

Finally, what's your condiment of choice? Ketchup, mayo and vinagars (malt or white) are common, but I'm sure Society members are getting creative.

Potatoes are still inexpensive so stock up, get your knife out, heat the oil and tell us how you do fries.

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Wow, this couldn't be more timely. I intend to serve fries with tonight's burgers (soon-to-be home ground mix of chuck, brisket and short rib), but have been struggling with which method to employ.

I always twice fry roughly 3/8" russet potatoes that have been briefly soaked in cold water and spun dry. The results are never consistent. Sometimes, they're crisp for a short while, then become limp in spots before the meal is done. (I do the second fry right before serving.) Sometimes, they don't get as crisp as I'd like before they've browned too much for my tastes. (I know the browning is likely due to sugar content and the manner in which the potatoes have been stored, but I can't always control this.) Far less often than I wish, the potatoes crisp up perfectly and stay that way, with creamy insides, for the entire length of the meal and then some.

After reading several eG threads on this subject, I think I might try the 3x method, possibly boiling or even microwaving them the first time. Lately, I tend to refrigerate them after the first fry, but think that's possibly not a good idea as that might contribute to over-browning before they're crisp. I've read the results of the Robuchon method and have nixed it. My goal is consistent crispness. Must I resort to frozen fries? :huh:

Edited by abooja (log)
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Hmm..... Spun-dry spuds aren't very dry, and they aren't evenly dry. I always dry them with kitchen towels until they're moisture-free. Maybe that's part of the problem?

If you are dying for crispness, maybe moving toward shoestrings is worth it.

And, Pam, what's this I see about red potatoes? Can you get them big enough for nice long spears? And does the interior turn into that mealy texture you get from the russets?

Chris Amirault

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Jeffrey Steingarten writes glowingly of fries fried in horse fat. I'd be very interested to read about anyone's experiences with this method, although I don't suppose it's easy to procure that much horse fat if you live in North America or Britain.

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I neglected to mention that I have, in the past, dried the soaked fries with paper towels, and gotten much the same result. I'd just as soon not waste all those paper towels, so I've switched to the salad spinner method. Perhaps I should lay them out to dry after this soak. As I don't add any citric acid, I'm concerned about discoloration. As it is, my once-fried potatoes often get these blackish blemishes after having rested in the fridge. Or is that the cold-sugar demons at work again? They seem to disappear after the second fry.

Something else I don't understand about making french fries is, why soak them at all pre-frying? Doesn't extra starch help to keep them crisp? As someone mentioned in another thread, the Cook's Country method of achieving crisp fried potatoes includes adding some corn starch to the mix either pre-fry or mid-fry. I just checked Cook's Illustrated's website, and their comments on this subject suggest that soaking benefits the creaminess aspect more than the crunch:

Russets can produce excessively thick crusts and somewhat dry interiors. The thick crust is caused by the browning of simple sugars in the russet, and the best way to remove some of the surface sugar is to soak the potatoes in water. The water has an added benefit. Potato starches gelatinize completely during cooking. The water introduced during soaking improves the creaminess and smoothness by working its way between the strands of gelatin starch. The final result is a fry that has a good surface crunch married to a smooth interior.

I think I may omit the soak tonight. Then I'll coat them with a bit of oil and microwave them for some time, let 'em cool, fry 'em once, let 'em cool, and fry, fry again. Unless someone has a better idea. :unsure:

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What timing! I am making fries tonight for a little granddaughter who had a rough day yesterday. It's one of her favourite "vegetables". Unfortunately this was not pre-planned and hence will be a combination of russets and Yukons - that's what is in the cupboard.

I soak, drain, dry thoroughly on clean dish towels, pre-fry, drain and then back into the fryer just before I serve them. Usually works out well with either potato.

There will only be 3 of us for dinner so I use an electric fondue pot as my deep-fryer - works great.

If I remember (doubtful) I will take a photo of the finished product and post it.

ETA: I remembered the photo but ImageGullet is acting up and I can't get it to upload. The fries were very good though. Some of the best I have made despite the mix of potatoes.

Edited by Anna N (log)

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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Is it possible to get a good fry by baking? Not that I am adverse to fried foods mind you but it does get messy.

I've done that with potatoes cut into 1/8ths, rinse toss with a little olive oil & sea salt and throw on a sheet pan in a hot oven for 40 minutes or so giving everyone a good shake from time to time. Comes out good but not really the same as fries.

Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

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Is it possible to get a good fry by baking? Not that I am adverse to fried foods mind you but it does get messy.

That's the Holy Grail as far as I'm concerned. Of course, by definition a french fry must be fried. Deep frying is messy, expensive, dangerous and unhealthy -- which is why I won't do it everyday, once a week's good.

My best "baked fry" is still inferior to the fried fry, but the gap's narrowing. Tonight we had baked fries using no.1 russet potatoes from Prince Edward Island, the Idaho of eastern Canada. The best way I know is:

1. scrub don't peel the potatoes

2. cut long and thin

3. soak in warm water for at least a few hours

4. drain and dry as much as possible

5. toss to barely coat in oil (1:1 canola:olive)

6. bake at 375F on a rack on a pan

You never really know if there done until you taste one -- light golden brown at 25 minutes is usually close. Problem is they go downhill fast as the chocolaty brown stage hits -- dry and bitter.

Here's a crappy picture which shows the uncooked spuds on a rack:

gallery_42214_6390_26071.jpg

note: if anyone knows why a 1 year old Cannon PowerShot A460 should suddenly start taking over-exposed and striated images, please send me a PM. The video feature still works perfectly.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

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One method I learned from a chef I worked with was the following:

Add cut potatoes to a pan and cover with oil (at room temperature). Turn the heat up and when you reach a specific point (we didn't use a thermometer so I don't know the exact temperature - very hot but before any bubbles appeared), the heat was turned off, and the potatoes were left to cool in the oil where they partially cooked, ever so gently.

After they were cool, they were fished out of the oil and drained. They had to be handled very gently, otherwise they would break.

They were then fried in hot oil.

They were the most perfect chips I've ever tasted. Really crispy and dry, very golden, nice and soft in the middle. And they always came out right, we had really consistent results.

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I've recently become hooked on my variant of Heston's triple-cooked fries. Rather than directly follow the recipe in the Big Fat Duck Cookbook, I (of course) integrate sous vide for the first cooking.

I cut Yukon gold potatoes into 1/2"x1/2" fries, rinse for a couple minutes under running water, vacuum seal in a pouch with a 1% brine, and cook sous vide at 185F/85C for 40 minutes. Now that the starches have gelated and the fries are almost falling apart, I drain the liquid from the bag and gently place on a couple paper towels in my vacuum chamber to boil off the surface moisture and rapidly cool the fries through evaporative cooling. I do my second cooking in vegetable oil which is above the boiling point of water but below the temperature at which the Maillard reaction occurs rapidly (so between 250--275F/120--130C). The fries again go in the vacuum chamber. Finally, since the Maillard reaction occurs rapidly between 300--350F/150--180C, the final cooking is done in oil at (or slightly above) 350F/180C until nicely browned. I think the fries are amazing tossed with just a little sea salt.

My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

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I'm very excited about this topic, since I've never, aside from a brief flirtation with a lemon chicken recipe in university, done any serious deep-frying.

Japan is the perfect place to start, though, since the 100-yen shops are filled with all sorts of knick-knacks to make frying easier, including draining racks, oil thermometers, attractive draining papers, and mysterious powders that solidify cooking oil after use. Leave it to Japan to make a messy operation clean.

As for the potatoes, however, I'm going to make two kinds of fries: sweet potato and regular potato. I duly read through the potatoes in Japan topic, and am not optimistic about my chances considering the lack of suitable frying potato here, but I'm going to give it a go anyway.

I like my potatoes more like English "chips" and less like thin, crispy "frites". Frankly speaking, I like a thick, floppy fry, with a creamy interior. Any tips on making this happen?

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Here are my weight watcher approved oven fries. Like Peter, I used PEI Russet potatoes. I parboiled them for a few minutes, drained, patted dry, tossed with 2tbls of Evoo and baked on my favorite Williams Sonoma Gold Touch pan.

gallery_25969_665_613282.jpg

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Is it possible to get a good fry by baking? Not that I am adverse to fried foods mind you but it does get messy.

I think the answer is no. That's baking, not frying. I'm not saying you can't get a good potato experience from it, but it's not a fried potato, which is sui generis.

Dave Scantland
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When I'm in a rush I use a technique I read about in Jeffrey Steingartens "The Man who ate everything" that is attributed to Joel Robuchon.

Use a mandoline to cut the potatoes, rinse them in a collander and dry them with t-towells. Then toss them in a cast iron wok and cover with peanut oil or (even better) beef, duck or goose fat. Then I turn on the heat to full and let them cook, stirring occasionly until they are ready.

If you are using a double or triple cook method I cant recomend a cast iron piece of cookwear highly enough; as you dont get the temp drop that you usually get in an electric deep fat fryer. An infrared thermoter is very handy indeed for getting a precise idea of temps. Btw do others season with pepper as well as salt?

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I use Heston Blumenthal's triple process method.

Cut into chip shapes and heavy simmer/boil until almost falling apart (gives nice little ridges that crunch wonderfully after the second and third treatments).

Carefully transfer to cake/bread cooling rack. Place in fridge and cool/dry (sometimes if I'm in a hurry, this is abbreviated and I dry with paper towels after a short cooling time).

Next conventional double fry, once for a few minutes, drain and sit then the second fry until coloured appropriately (I do both at the same temperature -- 180-190C in Peanut [ground nut] oil).

I've never tasted better chips. Even "non-chip eaters" (as if) have been tempted by these little wonders.

Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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After following the process I stated I would follow upthread, I wound up with fries that were little better than what I normally achieve with double frying alone. They were crisp for the first two minutes, it seems (presumably, while I took the below crap picture) and that was it. Here's what they looked like:

gallery_55703_6458_514875.jpg

I used two russet potatoes, cut into slightly smaller strips this time -- 1/4". (Not cut very consistently at all, in some cases, as you can see.) Despite the fact that they were purchased at the same time and stored together (in an unheated closet in my very cold basement), one of them had some dark spots while the other was perfectly white. They had been there for around two weeks, and most of that time it's been quite frigid around here. Maybe they got too cold.

At any rate, I microwaved them for 5-7 minutes (had to throw a couple back in) after tossing them with vegetable oil, let them cool at room temperature, then deep fried them in creamy vegetable oil (sort of like a mix between shortening and regular oil) for 4-5 minutes at 275F, let them cool at room temperature, then fried them one last time for 4 minutes or so at 375F. The only real benefit of this experiment, as I see it, was realizing I can save a step by not soaking and drying the potatoes before cooking. That seems to have made no difference whatsoever. I'm glad to no longer have to wash a 3-part salad spinner when making fries.

I just wish I could figure out the origin of the inconsistent results, despite the technique employed. I figure it has to be in large part the potato itself. If I had pulled them from the earth myself and got right to frying, I'm sure they would be spectacular. Even straight from the market (which I try to do) beats two weeks in my closet. I'm also wondering if I should make the switch to peanut oil, now that DH no longer has that allergy. And maybe I should go back to adding potato or corn starch to the oil (or dusting the fries with starch) pre-frying, as I once did, for added crispness. Finally, it may be that these fries are perfectly crisp for most people and my expectations are way too high. But I don't think so.

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The most important element is the potato. It's just impossible to get a good chip without the right potato. Luckily here in the UK, Maris Piper and King Edward are quite common. They're ideal because they crisp up nicely, stay crisp, have a light fluffy interior and taste brilliant. If I can't get hold of these then I don't bother making chips. Too many times I thought romanos, roosters or wilja will do but everytime I've been disappointed.

I always leave the skin on and cut them thin or fat according to what they're accompanying. It doesn't really matter what size they are, I just make sure they're cooked on a medium low heat first till they are all soft and just starting to break up. I move them gently to rough them up a little then i whack up the heat till they are done. Roughing them up gives them a more crispy texture. As for fat, duck fat is great but second-hand canola also does a great job. Has to be second hand, fresh oil makes a bland chip.

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Coughs modestly to point out the deep frying section of The Potato Primer: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=31701

Unfortunately the pictures seem to be broken.

For French Fries (called chips in UK) I peel and cut the potatoes, preferably King Edward, par-boil them, then dry the outside, for example on a rack in the fridge. Then par fry, drain, and finish fry.

I find duck fat the best frying medium, making a real difference, and not that expensive.

gallery_7620_135_20681.jpg

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Coughs modestly to point out the deep frying section of The Potato Primer: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=31701

Unfortunately the pictures seem to be broken.

For French Fries (called chips in UK) I peel and cut the potatoes, preferably King Edward, par-boil them, then dry the outside, for example on a rack in the fridge. Then par fry, drain, and finish fry.

I find duck fat the best frying medium, making a real difference, and not that expensive.

gallery_7620_135_20681.jpg

I used your triple-cook method a lot last year, but then was too lazy this year (deep frying is a seasonal thing in my house). I'm not getting the results I want with double-cooking, so I'm back to triple-cooking.

Once you do the par-boil, how long can you hold them for before you have to fry them? Can I hold them for a day or two?

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They are cooked potato, so yes you can hold them in a fridge.

I would cover them after 12 hours or so. Much longer than a couple of days and they will start to stale, like old cooked potato - oxidise, taste off and the starch degrade. I think they will still be wholesome, just not as nice. It will take longer, maybe 3 or 4 days if they are kept cold for bacterial degredation or for them to start or for them to start to ferment

Up thread Dougkas Baldwin mentions pre-cooking them sous vide at 185F/85C for 40 minutes. If you do not unseal or puncture the bag, the contents are effectively sterile, like canning and will keep for a week or two in a cold dark place.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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I guess I don't understand the "low fat" baked "fries" where one coats a few potatoes worth of fries with oil and then bakes them to doneness. This way, you are for sure getting the whole 2 tablespoons of oil. Meanwhile, it's not at all clear to me that two potatoes worth of fries that are fried in oil will absorb two tablespoons of oil.

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I guess I don't understand the "low fat" baked "fries" where one coats a few potatoes worth of fries with oil and then bakes them to doneness.  This way, you are for sure getting the whole 2 tablespoons of oil.  Meanwhile, it's not at all clear to me that two potatoes worth of fries that are fried in oil will absorb two tablespoons of oil.

Interesting thought, Sam. I always noticed a pretty good return on oil when frying properly. Meaning that I can never understand why an order of fries, almost anywhere where they list calories, is listed as so caloric. After all, even absorbing 2 tablespoons of oil only adds 240 calories. Add two potatoes at 100 calories each, and you're looking at a low-fat, healthy snack if 4 people share them, and they're fried in healthy oil...or duck fat.

So why do french fries constantly get the bad rap? Ahhh, perhaps the double-fried method? When blanched first at such a low heat, the potatoes must absorb a fair amount of oil. Probably even 3 T of oil. And then there's the 2nd fry and even if they only absorb 1T of oil, now you're looking at a snack with almost triple the calories, at 680. Big difference, no?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Reading through the replies I have some questions:

The double fry: why is the oil lower in temperature the first time around? As highlighted in some responses, this will increase fat absorption, which is not necessarily a desirable outcome. When I was growing up, some of my friends used to have parents with fish and chip shops and my understanding was that they did the double fry not only to make the final product crisper but also to preserve them when they were sitting out prior to the final preparation. As far as I know, they didn't use different temperatures between the first and the second fry. Is this a kitchen legend or has someone actually tried it? (I double cook mine at the same temperature, draining and cooling the chips between and they come out very well).

When to freeze? My thinking is that you could do the initial preparation by boiling, cooling them in the fridge, then doing the first fry. The oil coating on frozen chips suggests that commercial producers do something like this (without the initial boiling and cooling). At this stage, they could be frozen, stored and later added frozen to hot oil for the final deep fry.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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