When you rent long enough in New York City, two possible scenarios happen. One, you either can afford the nice neighborhoods and why wouldn't you want to stay? Or two, you cannot afford the nice neighborhoods and everyone you know who lives in the suburbs are like, "You live in a box yo." Living in disillusion kind of like accidentally eating a tapeworm. At first the disillusion don't matter all that much until one day the tapeworm finds its way to your brain, grows big, and you're like, "I have an 8 ft tapeworm in my body and I'm not even 6 foot tall." All this to mean that you sometimes don't know how crazy your point of view is until one day you realize, "WTF?!" But I mean, there's good points to being crazy, like thinking you can make french fries at home and it'll be easy. I harbored such fancies, and they were only mitigated by my wife, who offers good counsel when I'm delusional. So last month when wifey went to visit her parents, I let my french fry flag fly.
Basically there are two good recipes online about making french fries at home. The first is from Kenji at Serious Eats and the second is from Dave Arnold at Cooking Issues. Basically they both want you to boil/blanch your potatoes before you fry. Key differences between the two is that Kenji says to add some vinegar to the water and add the potatoes while the water is cold. Dave says to immerse the potatoes in a solution that contains Pectinex SP-L, which breaks down pectin at the surface, and then blanches the potatoes in boiling water. A notes about their ideas...
Starting with Dave Arnold's idea to pre-soak with a special enzyme. That Pectinex SP-L is sold in huge containers and absolutely not that easy for home cooks. He calls for a 14 to 15 minute blanch, which would kill any potato even if you add some vinegar/acid like Kenji's recipe. So unless you have that enzyme, you can't follow the blanching step completely to his specifications. With Kenji's idea, it pretty much works well, except he calls for a 10 minute blanch. That is still too long I think, unless I measured my water and vinegar improperly. They were still prone to falling apart. Honestly, for the kind of fries they mentioned that's about 1/4 of a inch in thickness, the potato is cooked through in about 5 to 6 minutes provided you don't crowd your pot with too many potato sticks. The reason you don't want to blanch it too long is because even though the potatoes blanched with acid come out more in-tact, they're still soft, and they break easily. When you deep fry a broken french fry, it gets all weird and hollow. Crunchy yes, but very hollow.
So the number one difference you're going to see when you blanch your potatoes is that your french fries do not brown as fast. This is kind of awesome because they come out looking golden and delicious. They also do not burn as fast. I don't know the science behind this but I guess you boil out some of the sugars in the potatoes when you blanch 'em? I tested frying one potato worth of french fries four times. You still do the normal thing of doing a double fry after the blanch. If the fries are not coming out as crispy as you'd imagine, then just fry it longer during the second fry. The first fry is just to build a blonde crust.
In Kenji's recipe, he calls for a 50 second first fry and dropping them in when the oil reaches 400. In Dave's explanation, he says to fry until the potatoes develop a blonde crust. I don't know which is better. 50 seconds seems too short and I have no idea what the hell a blonde crust is. At what point is it crusty enough? A few things neither of them tell you... unless you're a seasoned cook (and I'm not), 400 degrees IS FUCKING HOT AS HELL when you standing next to the stove. Really, it's fucking mad. Also I'm not sure if this was just my mind playing tricks on me, but the way my burner works, that range between 350 and 400 shoots up really really fast. Like it takes a while for my oil to heat up from 200 to 300 degrees, but after that, it's almost like ready to get super hot. Be careful with that shit.
Lots of recipes call for peanut oil, although if you also google smoking points of oils, it doesn't seem like peanut oil really has all that much of a higher smoking point. What you do notice is that canola oil makes your apartment SMELL LIKE ASS. No one mentions this in their recipe so I'm telling you now. Maybe peanut oil doesn't smell like ass, but it's also 3x more expensive than canola oil. You do the math for yourself and what you can afford.
Going back to the first fry, 50 seconds isn't really long enough to build a blonde crust. I'm also not sure what the fuck a blonde crust is in the oil vs out of the oil. Neither Kenji nor Dave mentions if this happens but whenever I take the fries out after the first fry, even if I do it for two or three minutes (which is way longer than Kenji's recommendation), the fries sound like they're hard in the oil, but after they come out and cool, they are super flaccid. Not sure if this is normal... but that leads us to the second fry step.
Here's the one fail safe thing to do for crispy/crunch fries... fry the shit out of it the second time. Trust me, I used a ton of oil and just one potato at a time so this was never an over crowding issue. So in your second fry step, just do it until they are starting to go from golden to brown. You'll notice these fries do not brown that fast. Even four minutes into the second frying step, they'll barely be brown.
Some things you might need include either a Cast Iron Dutch Oven or perhaps as Kenji suggests, a wok cuz it works just as well for deep frying and it's way cheaper. You also need a themometer so you can see what temperature the oil is at any given time.
Here's the steps you want to follow if you want to try making french fries at home.
1. Find Russet potatoes. I'm sure other ones work, but these are the ones I tried.
2. Cut as close to 1/4 of an inch as you can and put them in water after you cut. This is not to wash off starch as some non-blanch recipes might have you believe, this is to prevent your potatoes from turning color before you blanch them.
3. Boil a giant pot of water, add salt, add vinegar. Kenji's recipe calls for a ratio of 1 tablespoon of vinegar for every 4 cups of water. I think you can go way above that ratio and add more vinegar if you want. Won't affect taste even if you triple the vinegar amount. Although really, I'm not sure if more vinegar would make the potato even more in tact. I'm just telling you that if you think it seems like very little vinegar to water, you can up it, and there's no ill effects except perhaps wasting vinegar. I don't mind wasting vinegar.
4. When water comes to a rolling boil, add potatoes and bring water back up to boil again. If you have a giant ass pot of water, this should take a minute maybe. Then you can turn down the flame a little so the boil is not making the potatoes swim all over the place and run into each other. I'm not sure if this happens, but a hard rolling boil has the potatoes going all over the place and running into each other. It's like potatoes crashing into each other under water. Is that good for keeping potatoes in tact? Not sure, but why risk it if you can just turn down the heat a tad. Set timer for 5 minutes. If you don't believe all you need is 5, maybe 6 minutes. Eat a potato stick after it's done cooling off. It should taste like salty cooked through potato. The only thing that can throw this off is if you have too much potato for amount of water.
5. Take potatoes out of the water, cool on a rack. You can put the rack in the fridge if you're pressed for time. I don't think it really matters how long it cools. You only have to watch out for leaving it in the fridge for too long because it'll really dry out your potato sticks.
6. Heat up oil to somewhere past 360 and keep the burner on as you put potatoes into a spider and GENTLY lower the spider with potatoes into the oil. You want the burner on because the potato will cool the oil slightly. I stir it around until it feels like the potatoes have a hard outer shell instead of just being soft. Depending on much potatoes you added to the oil and how fast it comes back up to temperature after you've added potatoes, this could take between 1 and 3 minutes maybe? Maybe more. Definitely not less.
7. Remove potatoes and let cool completely. The thing about Step 6 is that some people have more powerful burners and can heat up oil really fast or some people just are better at keeping the oil at the right temp. You really gotta fuck with it.
8. Heat up oil again and as it's approaching 400, get reading to put your potatoes back into the oil. Here's where you really just gotta fry those suckers until they're golden and nice. When in doubt, if you want super crunch, leave it in longer. These fries aren't going to burn that fast. Your oil is going to burn way more than the potatoes. Maybe 3 to 6 minutes depending on your preference and ability to keep oil hot.
Now, none of this is definitive obviously, but I'm trying to tell you exactly what happens when you do this. No one out there is telling you that your potatoes are supposed to develop a blonde shell but then go soft as hell after that first fry. I'm telling you that, cuz when I follow recipes and the shit looks wrong after a particular step, I always wonder if some shit is wrong. Don't worry. If you fry it enough in the 2nd fry step, it'll be crunchy. Yes, it's possible to over fry these things, so do them in batches. If you eat enough french fries 4 days in a row, you'll know there is such a thing as too hard. Difficult to believe given how many places have limp fries, but it's true.
The most difficult part about deep frying at home is getting the oil hot as hell, and then bringing the temperature back up once you add potatoes into the oil. And then keeping it at the right temperature is difficult too. And lastly the annoying part is discarding the oil. I have a couple of gallon plastic water jugs from hurricane prep, and I put old oil in there. I'm not sure what to do with it except throw it in the trash. Seems kinda odd to throw oil away in the trash though. Dumping it down the drain seems like a super bad idea as well so I'll go with the trash route unless there's some other thing I'm over looking?
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