Cutting the potatoes was simple enough. Following the America’s Test Kitchen instructions, we cut the sides off to square up the potatoes, then cut them into 1/4-inch batons. We dropped them into a Dutch oven filled with 6 cups of peanut oil and turned the heat to high. At that point, we’d done pretty much all the work involved.
After about 5 minutes, the potatoes started to lose heat through steam, making the oil look like it was boiling. We let the pot cook for 15 more minutes. I checked the temperature a few times with my beloved Thermapen, since I was worried that just leaving the oil on high would get it too hot and cause a grease fire, but it never got near peanut oil’s smoke point of 448 degrees, much less its flash point of 600.
When 15 minutes were up, we gently stirred the fries and let them continue to cook until they got brown and crisp. This took more like 15 minutes than the 5 to 10 Dan Souza suggested. When the fries were brown to my liking, we used a wire skimmer (dirt-cheap at Asian grocery stores) to remove them from the hot oil, and placed them on a rack set over a cookie sheet.
After that, it was all over but the salting. And the eating. And boy, did we eat! I am mildly embarrassed to tell you we ate every single fry – and we started with more than 2 pounds of potatoes. But let me assure you, they were more than worth our later gastric upset. These fries were amazing: tender on the inside and crisp on the outside, with a good number of fries that had exploded in the pot and turned super-crisp and extra brown. Amazingly, they actually got crispier as they cooled, and stayed crisp when totally cold. They were absolutely delicious, and I wish I had some right now.
Dan Souza assures us that fries cooked this way actually absorb less oil (by about 1/3) than ones cooked the normal way. What mattered more to me is how this method removed one of the major anxiety points in frying – putting food into hot oil. You don’t do that in this recipe, so there’s no spitting and popping and hot grease splattering on your arm.
The problem with this recipe? You may become dissatisfied with French fries from any kitchen but your own.
Best, Easiest French Fries
Serves: 2 to 4 Time: 45 to 50 minutes Hands-on: 10 to 15 minutes
2.5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (do not substitute russets or other starchy potatoes!)
6 cups room-temperature peanut oil or other oil suited for high-heat frying
1-2 tablespoons bacon grease, optional (we didn’t try this)
Coarse salt, to taste
Cut the round edges off the long sides of the potatoes, squaring them off for easier cutting. Cut each potato into 1/4-inch planks, then stack the planks and cut them into 1/4-inch batons.
Pour the oil into a heavy Dutch oven or similar pot. Add the bacon grease, if using (it should give awesome flavor). Place over high heat.
In about 5 minutes, the oil will look like it’s boiling from the steam the potatoes are emitting. That’s good. Don’t stir them now or they’ll break. Let cook 15 minutes, then gently stir, being sure to loosen any potatoes that stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, giving the occasional gentle stir, until the potatoes are browned to your liking.
Use a wire skimmer to remove the fries to a wire rack placed over a cookie sheet (or to newspaper spread on the counter – that’s how Mom would do it). While they’re still hot, sprinkle liberally with course salt.
Eat right away. Dip in ketchup if you must, good mayo or malt vinegar if you’ve got them, or nothing at all – these babies don’t really require adornment.
Note: Peanut oil is expensive. Save it for next time. Strain out the solids using coffee filters and store in the fridge or freezer. You can reuse frying oil several times (Kenji of the Food Lab says ten or more) if you clean and store it carefully.
2nd note: We tried this again with a smaller amount of potatoes – about 1.5 pounds in a smaller pot. We just put them in the pot and poured in oil to cover, then followed the rest of the instructions. It worked fine, so feel free to make smaller batches if you’re just serving one or two and don’t wish to be gluttons like Arne and me.