Fear of Frying

Doesn’t everyone love fried foods. Yet as Russ Parson’s said in How to Read a French Fry, “Most people would sooner tune their own car or perform minor surgery on a family member before they would try to fry in their own kitchen.”

Frying basically involves cooking food in hot fat. But it’s not quite that simple. Parson’s writes, “Anyone doubting that cooking is a complex craft, need only consider frying. Perhaps no other type of cooking involves quite as many variables or requires as many decisions on the part of the cook.” Type of fat, main ingredient, coating and temperature to name just a few.

You need to take care when frying, because if the fat is too hot, the food will scorch or burn before it is completely cooked; and if it’s too cold, the food will soak up fat and become soggy with grease. It’s a question of balance.

I’ve got a secret to share with you. I’ve spent years looking for the perfect French fry, along the way experimenting with just about every possible variable: the cooking medium, the cooking process, the type of potato and temperature. For me, the perfect fries where the one’s I had in a bistro in the city of Lyon, France – a wonderfully, dangerously crisp exterior, a light, fluffy, heavenly interior, almost mouth burning hot and just enough salt to make me crave another bite.

The traditional way (and the best way I’ve found) to make fries is with two separate cooking processes. Why, because if you try to fry the potato in one go, they get too brown on the outside before the inside has the time to cook. An initial, cooler frying, in about 350 degree fat, enables the potato to be cooked through. The second frying, right before serving, is done at a higher temperature, between 375 degrees and 385 degrees – giving the fry its browning and crunch.

It isn’t that simple though. The potato you use makes a huge difference. It must be a russet or baking potato, and older the better. This gives you a potato with a low moisture level. If I had to choose a variety, I would say Kennebec, though the Burbank is a good second choice (it happens to be the most widely grown potato in Idaho and the potato commonly used for french fries in most fast food restaurant.)

Then there’s the fat. There are different schools of thought and with my apologies to the American Heart Association, it’s generally agreed that saturated fats make the best fries. Those of you old enough to remember, McDonald’s use to use beef fat to fry their potatoes. At my previous restaurant, I used duck fat to give those spuds additional natural sweetness. Also, despite popular belief, brand new oil isn’t always the best to use. If you do decide to make chips, as my English friends like to say, on a regular basis – and, believe me, you will, save a little of the old oil in the fryer to add to new oil (nonGMO rice or vegetable based oil of course). This helps prevent the potatoes from scorching.

I’ve teased you long enough, so, let’s make some fries:

Wash, peel and cut the potatoes into French fry lengths. Most experts same to keep them exactly even but I don’t worry, because if they’re a little uneven  this means that you’ll get a range of textures, from thicker, fluffier fries to more crisp-edged pieces.

Place the fries in a bowl of cold water and, when you have finished cutting them all, leave the bowl under cold running water for five minutes to remove excess starch. Preheat the fryer to 350 degrees – USE A THERMOMETER!. Remove the potatoes from the water and pat dry. Cook the cold potatoes until they take on a dry appearance on their surface – don’t over crowd them and don’t let them color at all. Drain and refrigerate for at least half an hour. This allows the potatoes to form a film of gelatinized starch, which slows any further oil absorption.

Increase the temperature of the oil to 385 degrees. Plunge the cold fries into the oil and cook until golden brown and crisp. Drain, salt while still hot, serve and eat at once.

You can learn read a French fry. If the oil was optimum, the potato just right and temperature maintained, the fry will be golden brown and crisp, with rigid edges. It will be completely cooked and soft and fluffy in the center. And perhaps most important, it will smell like a great French fry.

You too can conquer your fear of frying.

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