Published July 1, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.
When we wanted a french fry recipe with half the oil and no double frying, we tried submerging the potatoes in cold oil before frying them over high heat until browned. With lower-starch potatoes like Yukon Golds, the result was a crisp exterior and a creamy interior.
Flavoring the oil with bacon fat (optional) gives the fries a mild meaty flavor. We prefer peanut oil for frying, but vegetable or canola oil can be substituted. This recipe will not work with sweet potatoes or russets. Serve with dipping sauces (see related recipes), if desired. See "Cutting Potatoes for French Fries," below, for help on cutting even batons.
1. Combine potatoes, oil, and bacon fat (if using) in large Dutch oven. Cook over high heat until oil has reached rolling boil, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, without stirring, until potatoes are limp but exteriors are beginning to firm, about 15 minutes.
2. Using tongs, stir potatoes, gently scraping up any that stick, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Using skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer fries to thick paper bag or paper towels. Season with salt and serve immediately.
Giving Fat the Cold Shoulder
Our easier approach to cooking French fries does not preheat the oil and calls for one prolonged frying instead of the quicker double-dip in hot oil used in the classic method. But does the lengthy exposure to oil lead to a greasier fry?
We prepared two batches of fries using Yukon Gold potatoes, our preferred spud for the cold-start method. We cooked one batch the conventional way, heating 3 quarts of peanut oil to 325 degrees and frying 2½ pounds of potatoes until just beginning to color, removing them, increasing the oil temperature to 350 degrees, then returning the potatoes to the pot to fry until golden brown. Total exposure to oil: less than 10 minutes. The second batch we cooked according to our working method, submerging 2½ pounds of spuds in 6 cups of cold oil and cooking over high heat for about 25 minutes, with the oil temperature never rising above 280 degrees. We then sent samples from each batch to an independent lab to analyze the fat content.
Our cold-start spuds contained about one third less fat than spuds deep-fried twice the conventional way: 13 versus 20 percent.
Fries absorb oil two ways. As the potatoes cook, they lose moisture near their surface, which is replaced by oil. Then, as they cool after being removed from the hot grease, oil from their exterior gets pulled in. Because our cold-start method cooks the fries more gently, less moisture is lost (but enough so the fries stay crisp) and less oil is absorbed during frying. Plus, this approach exposes the spuds to just one cool-down, versus the two cooling-off periods of the classic method, so less oil gets absorbed after cooking as well.
Keys to Easier Crisp French Fries
The classic technique for French fries involves four steps: rinsing the cut potatoes, soaking them in ice water, and then deep-frying—twice—in quarts of hot oil. Our method calls for just one round of frying and a lot less oil.
1. LESS OIL Our fries cook in just 6 cups of oil instead of 2 or 3 quarts.
2. COLD START Beginning with room-temperature oil gives fries time to cook through before their exteriors crisp.
3. ONE FRY Potatoes are fried only once, for about 25 minutes, rather than twice.
Cutting Potatoes for French Fries
1. Square off potato by cutting a 1/4-inch-thick slice from each of its 4 long sides.
2. Cut potato lengthwise into 1/4-inch planks.
3. Stack 3 to 4 planks and cut into 1/4-inch batons. Repeat with remaining planks.