French fries are the perfect side dish for any number of grilled foods. Steak and fries. Burger and fries. Cheese burger and fries. Bacon cheese burger and fries. But getting perfect fries at home is difficult. The ideal fry is crispy on the outside but fluffy or slightly creamy on the inside. People bet their companies trying to achieve the super fry. Rifling through an old copy of Cook’s Illustrated1 I found a recipe for oven baked fries. I modified it, but the key here was the science behind the perfect French fry.
Homemade French Fries
- 2 russet potatoes
- 5 tablespoons peanut oil
- 2 teaspoons Salt
- 1 teaspoon Pepper
- First, we use russet potatoes. Better browning and flavor than other potatoes. Peel the potato to have a better flavor and texture. Cook’s Illustrated1 used wedges for speed of cooking and reducing waste, but I’m a square fry guy so I cut my potatoes into slices of even thickness, about 1cm wide (about 1/3 inch).
- While waiting for your grill to warm up, place the sliced potatoes in a large bowl and cover with hot tap water. This is the secret to crispy outside, creamy inside. Apparently, something about the hot water removing the starch from the outside of the fry keeps the outside from having caramelized sugars. Caramelized sugars are apparently bad in fries, causing a tough exterior. Since we only want tough exteriors on cowboys and house paint, we soak away the starch for about 10 minutes. According to John Olson, the Science Editor for Cook's Illustrated, "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."1 In other words, trust them, it makes it good.
- Dry the fries completely on paper towels.
- Put the fries in a clean dry bowl.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. The article recommended peanut over olive oil, and I went with this recommendation. The rest of the oil will go in the skillet.
- Add the salt and pepper to taste and mix to evenly distribute the salt, pepper and oil.
- Instead of using an oven, we’ll be using a cast iron skillet on the grill. As always, be careful when using oil on the grill. Measure the oil and pour into the pan prior to placing it on the grill. Get it hot, but not smoking. The Cook’s Illustrated1 article suggested a precise 475 degree oven. I found “hot” was an appropriate temperature. Careful not to get it to hot, or the fries will burn before cooking through, or worse, the oil could catch on fire. If the oil starts to smoke, back it off the heat.
- Add the fries, just enough to fill the pan without crowding. We want to pan fry, not steam the fries.
- Fry them, turning with a spatula to evenly brown. When they are good and crispy to your liking, remove to a rack (Alton Browns preferred method) or paper towels to remove any remaining oil from the fries. Add more potatoes and continue cooking until all fries are cooked.
Don’t forget the ketchup!
Add some spice. Try a hot and spicy fry:
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Make it CHEESEY!
Make a basic cheese sauce (or zap some Velveta in the microwave, but just don’t tell me about it) and drizzle over your hot fries. Yum, cheese fries!
Unhealthy, but sooo good. Swap out the peanut oil for rendered duck fat or beef lard. Yeah, I know, but if you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you are missing.
1. Davison, Julia Collin – “Ultimate Oven Fries” free sample-sized copy of Cook’s Illustrated
I found if you fry them, then fry them a second time, they are even better. I like doing this on the grill so it doesn’t stink up the house.