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The Secret to Crisp, Homemade French Fries, Part 2

Yesterday we talked about the prep work involved in making the perfect French fry at home. To recap, we chose Russet Burbank potatoes and cleaned them thoroughly. We left the skin on and cut them into quarter-inch sticks. Afterward, we soaked the soon-to-be fries in a bath of cold water...
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Yesterday we talked about the prep work involved in making the perfect French fry at home. To recap, we chose Russet Burbank potatoes and cleaned them thoroughly. We left the skin on and cut them into quarter-inch sticks. Afterward, we soaked the soon-to-be fries in a bath of cold water for eight hours to remove the excess starch and ensure they fry up crisp and firm.

Now, it's time to fry.

Step Three: Dry

After all that time spent soaking, your fries-to-be are going to be fairly wet. And since water and oil mix about as well as ketchup and chocolate syrup, you're going to want to make sure to dry them thoroughly before tossing them in an oily vessel.

Colanders and mesh strainers work OK, but a solid method for drying your potatoes involves a simple kitchen towel. Spread your fries out on a thick, clean dish towel and pat dry. Then let them sit for at least half an hour. The towel should wick up excess moisture, leaving your fries ready to meet their maker.

Step Four: Prep the Fryer

Now that you've got fries ready to go, how are you going to actually fry them? There are a couple of ways to approach this. A sturdy two-gallon pot on the stove top can work fine -- all you'll need is a thermometer you can attach to the pot that dips slightly into the oil and a slotted metal spoon for scooping out your fries. Also, be sure not to fill the pot any more than 1/3 of the way to the top. Any more than that and you'll be redecorating your kitchen.

For me, I like one of those home-model deep fryers you can purchase at Bed, Bath and Beyond or similar stores. Most models are fairly cheap and have some sort of filtering system to keep your house from smelling like a McDonald's for the next week or so. Better still, they usually come with a removable oil vessel for easy clean-up, a fry basket for easy dunking, and are about the right size so that you don't have to use too much or too little oil. Almost all models have a nifty temperature control gauge that makes it easy to hold and maintain oil temperature so long as you don't overfill the basket.

What about the oil? Most French fry aficionados agree peanut oil is the superior lipid when it comes to making frittes. You're going to need at least two quarts of the stuff for most home fryers. You can also go with canola oil in a pinch -- just stay clear of corn or vegetable oil, which has a very distinct taste that sticks with the fry. Bonus points: Some fry makers swear by adding about 7 ounces of duck or bacon fat to the oil before frying. This practice can impart some serious flavor into your fries.

Step Five: Poaching 

We've got our oil and our vessel squared and our fries are ready to go. Now it's time to get to work. Heat your oil to 325 degrees and hold it steady there. Next, in go your fries. We're going to poach the potatoes at this relatively low temperature so that by the time we're done with cooking the fries later on, the inside will get nice and mushy just as the outside becomes crisp. Three to four minutes is usually enough to make sure the potatoes are pretty much cooked. You're not looking to brown the potatoes at all -- you're just cooking them until they're soft.

There are a couple of important things to note here: First, fry in batches. If you overload the fryer, the temperature will drop and you'll end up with soggy, greasy fries. That's no good. Instead, work in small amounts, and take your time. The process will actually move quicker than if you fill the fryer too much and drop the temperature low. Second, be careful removing the fries from the vessel. Allow them to drain thoroughly over the pot/fryer and then place them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or paper towels to wick up excess oil. Once you're done poaching, it's time for...

Step Six: Frying

Bring the oil up to 375 degrees and hold it there. Now take your poached fries and get them back in the bath. Remember: Keep your batches small. This time, you'll likely hear that hissing and popping emblematic of quality deep-frying. If you took your time in poaching, the little frittes are going to go pretty fast. Two minutes is usually all it takes to turn those soft, cooked potatoes into crisp, heavenly fries. Look for a deep-brown, chestnut-colored exterior. But don't go too far past that: Fries have a narrow burn window just between flavorful and charred. It may take some practice, but eventually you'll begin to know what to look for. Just taste each batch as they come out, and note the difference. My first few batches were a little underdone, surprisingly. But I eventually got the timing down pat.

After draining thoroughly, move your fries to a paper-towel-lined bowl and quickly season liberally with large-grain kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. Serve pronto. I like to eat 'em plain, but it's also hard to beat dipping them into classic tomato ketchup.

So there you have it: Relatively easy-to-make, hand-cut, homemade French fries that blow away most of the frittes you can buy in restaurants. Now get to frying.

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