Of French Fries and Name Dropping
When my favorite two Michelin star celebrity chef, Michel Roux Jr, was asked what he would choose for his last meal on Planet Earth, he included French Fries ("chips") in the menu.
Yeah. Me too.
But not just any ol' French Fries. Non, non, non mon cher! Properly made French Fries. (Hint: Tearing open a plastic bag doesn't appear anywhere in this recipe!)
What I find even more interesting is that everyone who knows their food makes French Fries (frites pronounced /freets/) pretty much the same way.
Whether it's Ruth Reichl, legendary New York Times restaurant critic, or Les Halles' Chef Carlos Morales (may he rest in peace) who took over after Anthony Bourdain, they all make French Fries pretty much the same way. There's good ways to make French Fries and then there's the best way to make French Fries. I'd like to think this article will explain the best way.
Now I won't be pedantic about the type of potato. Michael likes red potatoes for their sweetness. Ruth Reichl is partial to russets. I have a Depression era attitude towards potatoes. Any potato is a good potato. My favorite potato is the one I have on hand that isn't old and gooey. Hey! Sh*t happens!
Michael likes his French Fries to have peelings. Chef Morales peeled his potatoes. Whatever. Suit yourself.
The cutting is also up to you. Marco Pierre White is legendary for once charging a bloody-minded customer £25 for a plate of hand-cut French Fries. We use a vintage Veg-O-Matic Michael insisted we buy at the thrift store to slam the potatoes into sticks. Ah, correction. I struggle and swear and Michael does the slamming for me.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. Step #1 is not to fry the potatoes. It's actually to soak the potatoes in cold water for at least half an hour. This step is mandatory. It removes the extra starch so the resulting fries are crisper.
After soaking, it's imperative to dry the potatoes if you don't want a hissing, foaming, overflowing mess of hot oil! I don't mean a half-hearted shake in a colander. No, I mean a proper pat dry with paper towels and/or a spin in the salad spinner. It's kinda like washing your bathroom rugs in the washing machine. Lots of banging and going off balance but it works.
By now, your oil is up to temperature. We don't deep-fry very often so I keep reusing my (strained) old oil in the belief that reusing oil adds great flavor to fresh food. Our oil is an odd combination of whatever I have on hand, mostly vegetable oil.
What temperature you ask? WhaddoIlooklike, Heston Blumenthal!? All I know is that my oil is at the perfect temperature on the lowest flame on my propane campstove. That's probably about 350° - 375° Fahrenheit. Any hotter and things get out of control fast.
The trick to really crispy frites is to fry the potatoes for 10 minutes to steam out most of the water...remove, drain and rest them...and fry again til they reach the desired lovely golden crunchiness.
If your oil foams up, simply lift the fry basket out of the oil, let the oil settle down and try again. I learned that from Julia Child.
After lifting your lovely golden crispy fries from the oil to drain on white paper towel, the next step is to salt them. Here again, there's a trick. Chef Carlos demonstrated making Les Halles' legendary French Fries in Season 6, Episode 11 of No Reservations. Hold the bowl low and a pinch of salt high. Salt the fries from a distance so the salt spreads out as it falls into the rotating bowl, evenly salting the fries. You'll see chefs always using this technique when they salt any kind of food. Me? I'd rather die. Any salt on my kitchen floor drives me crazy. My feet are softer than veal.
Of course, fries are wonderful all alone. Canadians, I'm told, tend to eat them with gravy, a dish called poutine. But Michael and I are partial to fry sauce which, as I understand it, has its roots in Utah or something. You may know it as Mayochup. It's a simple mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup. The mayo lends richness to the ketchup and cuts the acid. But eat fry sauce at your peril. It's addictive!
There we have it, folks. The perfect French Fry and enough name dropping to gag a leprechaun.
P.S. If you've enjoyed this recipe, please consider donating $5 to help keep this writer afford interesting ingredients. Thank you! www.gofundme.com/f/reluctant-cook-ingredient-fundraiser
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