Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Side Dishes: French Fries

French Fries

2-3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut to desired “fry” size
Canola or vegetable oil to cover

  • Arrange potatoes in a large skillet, cover with cold oil
  • Turn heat to medium, turning fries after 15 minutes
  • Drain on paper towel, add salt to taste
Detailed Instructions
Using a pan large enough to hold the potatoes in no more than two layers, scatter the fries, making sure to separate them as much as possible. Any two fries that are right next to each other may stick together. It’s not possible to get every single one separate, but arranging them so that most of the fries are perpendicular to one another, versus side by side, is preferred.

Add enough canola or vegetable oil to just cover the fries. Turn the heat on to medium, and bring to a rapid simmer. You probably won’t have to adjust the heat much, but keep an eye on it. You don’t want it to boil over.

In the first 15 minutes, don’t stir the fries. After 15 minutes you can move them around gently. After about 20 minutes, use tongs to move them around and flip them over so you can see the undersides. When they start to turn golden, they’re close to done. You’ll end up with a few that get a little more brown than golden. Once they’re done, remove from the hot oil with tongs and drain on paper towel. Salt to taste.

This makes enough fries for 4 people.

Dinner at my house on Thursday night is the same thing every week in every season. We have hamburgers and French fries (the exception being the fourth Thursday in November, of course). By the end of a long week I’m ready for a meal that I can prep in 12 minutes, let cook largely unattended, and serve without having to listen to any whining. Everyone likes it, I get no groans of protest when I announce what’s for dinner, no one saying, “Why can’t we have x instead?”

I read about these fries in several places and they really are as easy as they sound. There are a couple of small caveats, but nothing too daunting. I use a 12” nonstick skillet. I’ve used a 12” chefs pan (with straight sides, as opposed to the sloping sides of a skillet) that was not nonstick. I recommend the nonstick because it does make it easier to get the fries out. If you use a regular pan, you’ll have to pry a few off the bottom of the pan, which is a bit tricky when what you’re doing is attempting to dislodge something that’s under an inch or two of boiling hot oil. I’m not saying it can’t be done—it can—but be very, very careful and be prepared to still do some scrubbing once you’ve removed the oil.

A word on the oil—I use canola. I buy a big jug of it at Costco. You can reuse the oil 2-3 times before it starts to break down. We just pour it back into an old oil jug and keep it on hand. When it’s time to dispose of it, we usually line a trash bag with lots of newsprint and pour the oil on that. The newsprint absorbs the oil, and goes out with the garbage. The plastic jug gets recycled.

The primary trick to these fries is not to stir them until they’re mostly done. I made them once with great success, then made them subsequent times and couldn’t understand why I was ending up with piles of fried potato bits. Then I realized I was trying too hard to keep them from sticking, and kept stirring them every few minutes. Don’t do it. Wait 15 minutes, then you can move them around. I use tongs to flip them over because the ones on the bottom get a bit more brown than those on the top. Turning them over and rearranging them gives them a more uniform appearance.

We’ve been making these for so long that I actually have a commercial French fry cutter. It can be mounted on the wall (I’m not quite to that stage yet) and the potato rests in a sort of trough that has a grid cutter at one end. There’s a plunger or pushing mechanism with a handle on it. As you lower the handle, the potato gets pushed up to and through the grid cutter, making perfect ¼” square fries. Before I owned it, I had one of those round apple slicers that switched out the apple sectioning insert for one that had a ¼” fry cutter. The fry insert never stayed in very well, and I often had to trim my potatoes so that the cutter would fit over them. After months and months of Thursday night hamburgers and fries, we bought the more efficient commercial one from Amazon. The price was surprisingly reasonable.

I’m not suggesting you rush out and buy a commercial French fry cutter (they are rather heavy and bulky to store, and they really do only do one job), but these fries are worth a try—they don’t make as big a mess as a “traditional” deep fry (admittedly they make some mess, but it’s not to the degree of the deep fry method), nor do they make your house smell like burning fat for two days. And I’ve never met anyone who whined about being served French fries.

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