The Anatomy of a French Fry
French fries are definitely one of my favorite guilty pleasures. From being served alongside a juicy bacon cheeseburger to being the main attraction in poutine (don’t worry I’ll show you what it is soon enough), the French fry proves to be a dish that everyone can relate to. From the outside, a French fry looks like nothing more than just a potato fried in some oil, but it’s so much more than that. In order to obtain the perfect French fry there’s a couple of steps that go into achieving this feat. So what actually goes into making the perfect French fry anyway? For many the answer lies in what is known as the double fry. This frying technique is what many believe to be the ultimate key in obtaining French fry perfection.
It all starts with choosing the right potato to use. The most important thing is to make sure that the potato is of the starchy variety, something like a Russet potato would be ideal. The main reason you want to use a super starchy potato is that soft interior that you’d expect to find in a French fry. The next step in preparing for the inevitable fry is the actual cutting of the potato. You want to cut the potatoes about the same size to ensure that they have the same cook time as well as for uniformity’s sake. Finally, you want to let the potatoes soak in some water to remove any excess starch and then allow the potatoes to dry; this step will help ensure the potato to fry properly.
So this is where the double fry comes into play. It is exactly what it sounds like; the potato will need to be fried twice. But before you can actually dump the potatoes into the hot oil you’ll need to decide what type of fat you want to use. Aside from the ordinary oils that restaurants tend to use, like peanut oil and sunflower oil, you can go the more decadent route and use things like duck fat or lard (aka pork fat). Personally I’d go with using duck fat or lard just because it’ll give that extra layer of flavor you won’t get from using ordinary neutral tasting oils.
Anyway let’s get into the double fry. The first fry is usually at a lower temperature, preferably around 325°F for about five minutes. This wave of frying helps expel as much water from the potato as possible so that your French fry has that really soft starchy center. Don’t expect anything else yet, you won’t be seeing any super crispy skin during this time. The second fry is to ensure you get that really nice crisp exterior. This time around you want to aim for a higher frying temperature around 375°F for two to three minutes. This should yield a very crisp French fry. Take note that the temperature of the oil will drop when you add the potatoes so keep an eye out to maintain the proper temperature.
So before you can start nomming on these near perfect fries there’s one last thing you have to do, season them. The most common ingredient is simply salt, but it is sometimes the only ingredient used to season French fries. Restaurants tend to use higher quality salts. The most important thing to note when seasoning your fries is that it should be done immediately after they have left the fryer.
As a born and bred Marylander, Old Bay is the way to go. I would definitely add this to my version of the perfect French fry. Everyone’s got their favorite variation of this classic, from adding some simple ketchup to a more gourmet touch with some herbs and a side of garlic aioli, but no one can deny that there is a special place for the French fry in every foodie’s heart.
Nothing wrong with the classics. A batch of nicely salted French fries and a bit of ketchup on the side is great anytime.
If you really want to make it a bit more fancy, dress up your French fries with some rosemary, thyme and parsley. These are just some classic herbs that can be used. This really goes well with some garlic aioli on the side instead of your ordinary ketchup.
This is definitely something you don’t see every day. A French variation on the tradition French fry, this is a puffed up potato that can be found in more classic French restaurants. It’s super crispy and commonly served with Béarnaise sauce.
A common menu item at any French bistros, moules frites is simply steamed mussels with some fries. Definitely recommend using the fries to sop up some of that broth from the steamed mussels, way better than just using bread.
Commonly found in diners this dish has become an American staple. A great example of this classic can be found at Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC.
A twist on your traditional chili fries, this is the Mexican version that blows it out of the water. A quick rundown of what mole is: a sauce made from a bunch of different Mexican herbs, nuts, bread or tortillas and some chocolate. Just a fun fact but some mole sauces can be made up of twenty ingredients, some even have a more than a hundred. Definitely try some at Oyamel by Chef José Andrés in DC.
A Peruvian specialty, this dish has marinated beef, onions, tomato and parsley over a bed of French fries. Those fries benefit from absorbing the sauce, and those beef juices help enhance their flavors.
Saved the best for last. By far my favorite French fry dish, this Canadian specialty needs to make its way across the border ASAP. The dish is kind of a hybrid between cheese fries and disco fries; the French fries are smothered in a rich brown gravy and topped with squeaky cheese curds. You won’t find it made any better than in Montreal so definitely make your way up there some time!
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