You Deserve (yes!) Homemade Fries - No. 45
They’re easy to make, way better than drive-thru, and a good excuse to socialize
I JUST RETURNED FROM A TRIP TO WYOMING visiting my son, and in the land of meat and potatoes, I had my fair share of burgers and fries. The best burgers were hand-formed, had a bit of wood smoke, crisp lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, plus a fresh, soft griddled bun.
But sadly, I have absolutely nothing to tell you about the fries. They seemed straight from Sysco, and frankly, McDonald’s does better. The best were a shoestring attempt using fresh potatoes, but showed up limp and greasy.
Has no one learned to make homemade French fries? Pommes frites? Where have they been?
My French fries of memory
Truth is, I didn’t learn to make the real French fry until I was in Paris in cooking school. I was raised on Ore-Ida frozen fries baked at 350 until they browned, but never crisped, sadly. My mother cooked everything at 350. That was before the days of high heat sheet pan cooking, before you learned that heat brings flavor.
When my parents went out, usually on Friday nights, our favorite babysitter would pull out the electric skillet, heat some oil, and fry those potatoes. We loved them, and even at that early age we could tell the difference between a fried fry and a baked fry.
But I was an adult before I knew that to achieve the real French fry, you need to commit to frying the potato twice - once at a lower temperature to par-cook and secondly at a higher temp to crisp. It is that two-step fry that surpasses above all others. It is a bit of trouble, I know, and we really don’t need this recipe, but we do want it.
And some of my themes for writing this newsletter this year have been surviving/coping, learning something new, exploring simply a great recipe, and making something just for the heck of it. I think French fries check off all four!
Why fry your own fries? To taste the potato.
Thanks to the French…whoops, actually the Belgians, who gave us fries. If you’ve ever traveled to Brussels you’ve seen the cafes sprinkled throughout the city where steamed moules (mussels) are accompanied by frites that taste like potatoes and mayonnaise for dipping.
We are all searching for ways to create happy memories, so I’m going to share an idea I used when my son was young and home on a Friday night. We’d drape the kitchen table with brown grocery bags that I had cut at the seams to lay flat. And then we’d make dipping sauces of barbecue, aioli, blue cheese, honey mustard, anything that came to mind, and my husband would throw some burgers on the grill.
And I’d get to scrubbing and slicing up big fat Russet baking potatoes. They’d go into a bowl of ice water. Then I’d peel and slice some Vidalia onions and they’d go in another bowl of ice water. I’d make up a quick onion ring batter using Zatarains or just a beer and self-rising flour.
Potatoes + oil + big pot + heat = fries
I used to have a Fry Daddy, one of those countertop fryers, but when we moved about five or six years ago it never made it’s way to the kitchen. And in all honesty, I am so old school and pull out my deep cast-iron skillet or Le Creuset Dutch oven and fill it a third of the way with peanut oil and crank up the heat.
You can also use an air-fryer. (Not as old school as you think! We’ll get to that on Thursday…)
It’s as important to use the right type of oil as it is to make sure you are frying baking (Russet) potatoes, which make crispy fries with creamy insides. Peanut oil is the oil of choice because it has a high smoke point - 450 degrees F. - the temperature that the oil begins to break down and burn and create smoke. (Canola and vegetable oils have a little bit lower smoke point of 400 degrees, and they are fine for frying, too.) These oils stay neutral and don’t impart any flavors as you fry. And they don’t break down into something called free radicals, which are believed to be carcinogenic.
You’ll need a thermometer that you can place down into the oil to regulate the heat, adjusting the temperature of the stove under the oil to make sure it stays consistent. You need to turn on the exhaust fan.
And you should go ahead and grill those burgers because once you start cooking the fries, they will be hot and ready to eat ASAP!
Little tricks make all the difference
The trick to perfect homemade fries is, first of all, to cut the potatoes the same size. You can slice them into sticks or into wider strips - it’s up to you! - but just make sure they are about the same so they cook in the same amount of time.
And you want to fry them twice - first at 275 degrees until they are translucent and soft to the touch, about 4 to 5 minutes. This cooks them through. Remove from the oil, drain on a rack, and let the oil heat to 375 degrees.
Once it’s hot, add the fries in batches, and fry them just a minute or two, until they are browned and crisp. Then toss them onto brown paper-lined baking sheets or your kitchen table.
Or, if you like, press a garlic clove into a large bowl, pour in a tablespoon of olive oil, add salt, chopped fresh herbs like parsley and chives, and some grated Parm. Sprinkle this topping over your beautiful fries.
My sister Susan asked me to write this column
She’s a consummate entertainer who loves to have people over and share fun new appetizers and drinks. Covid has been really hard on people who love to socialize.
So if you’re looking for ways to keep yourself entertained, harken back to the days of small children, perhaps, when you looked for anything to keep them entertained. Try projects, parties, and themes.
Invite over a small group of vaccinated friends. Sip some rose, listen to Edith Piaf, heat the oil, and share your hopes and dreams about where in France you’d travel if you could.
Do you skillet fry potatoes or air fry them? Favorite seasonings and dipping sauces? (Come on, indulge us!)
THE RECIPE: SKILLET POMMES FRITES
I have a deep-sided cast iron skillet that I think was originally a chicken fryer, and I use it to fry French fries. I’ve got a screened top that keeps the spatters off my clean stove, but I’ve found I clean up less if I pull out the deeper Le Creuset Dutch oven. It retains heat as well as that skillet because it’s enameled cast iron. Enjoy with mayo or ketchup!
Makes 8 servings as appetizer; 3 to 4 as a side dish
Prep: 25 to 30 minutes
Cook: 5 to 7 minutes for each batch
2 pounds Idaho Russet potatoes (2 to 3 potatoes), peeled or unpeeled
Cold water, to cover
1 quart (4 cups) peanut oil, for frying
Kosher salt, minced fresh garlic, freshly ground black pepper, and minced fresh Italian parsley, for garnish
Peel the potatoes if you like, or leave unpeeled. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, then slice each half into 1/3-inch strips. Cut each strip into 4 pieces to yield 16 to 20 strips per potato. Place the potato strips in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes to draw off the starch from the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and pat dry on paper towels.
Place the oil in a 12-inch skillet or large Dutch oven, and heat over medium-high to 275 degrees. Fry about a third of the potatoes at a time, frying 4 to 5 minutes, until the fries come to the surface and are translucent in color and soft to the touch. Remove to a rack to drain and cool. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.
Just before serving, increase the oil to 375 degrees. Add a third of the potatoes at a time and fry until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes, removing to brown paper to drain. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Sprinkle with salt, garlic, black pepper and parsley, then serve hot.
For my Subscribers this Thursday:
Here’s a favorite photo I took while in southeast Wyoming. This was early in the morning while my husband and son were heading off to fly fish. So beautiful in the West! So hopeful. And I’m sharing the honest truth that I’m a little late to the air fryer party, but better late than never! I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned and this Thursday give you five good reasons to consider air frying. Now, if you’ve got air-frying tricks and finesse, please share with me! Here on this newsletter or over on Instagram @annebyrn. Not being a gadget person, I was reluctant to order something else for my counter, but I’ll admit, it’s been fun to cook with! And as September is closing out, I’ll be drawing a name this weekend and give away a copy of the Turnip Greens & Tortillas cookbook, by Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett.
Only 42 days until A New Take on Cake is published! Have you pre-ordered your copy to make sure it arrives before the holidays?
Have a great rest of the week!