For the Love of French Fries

by Erin Child

 As a nutrition student, my unabashed love of French fries may seem out of place. But for me, they are just one delicious part of an otherwise decently balanced diet. They’re my go-to when out at a bar with friends, and my favorite accompaniment to a bowl of steamed mussels. So, I decided to finally try my hand at making some real deep-fried French fries. However, I can’t in good conscience let this story be all be about deep-fried food. And so, I also made a batch of oven fries to compare to the deep-fried originals. I recruited a couple Friedman friends to taste test, and we had a delicious Fry-day night.

The first time I attempted deep frying I wound up with second-degree burns. My college roommate and I had decided to make fried chicken for our then-boyfriends in our closet-sized kitchen. The moment I bent down to check on the root vegetables roasting in the oven, my roommate chucked the last piece of chicken into the hot oil, splashing it all over the top of my head and hand. Boyfriends arrived an hour later to find me on the floor, forehead covered in aloe and my hand in a pot of cool water. Never again, I vowed, would I deep fry anything. Leave that to the professionals.

A decade later, I have mostly kept my promise. I can count on one hand the number of times I have fried something, and it has always been using a relatively safe, contained, counter-top fryer. I’ve made donuts, pakora (an Indian snack food), and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto®–crusted chicken. (You read that right.) But I still have never attempted one of my all-time favorite foods, French fries.

Before my deep-fried adventures began, I did some shopping. I ordered a thermometer and splatter screen from Amazon for $25.81 worth of safety precautions. I then did some research. I consulted Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and Serious Eats, and found that both recommend the double-fry method for crispy goodness. I had hoped to find a way to avoid deep-frying twice, but couldn’t find any source to persuade me that one fry was sufficient for the texture I desired. Smitten Kitchen had a recipe for single-fried fries, but I was not convinced; however, I did follow the recommendation of using Yukon Gold potatoes instead of regular Russets. They have similar starch content, and thus are both good for frying. And I liked the idea that because of their yellow color, Yukon Golds have more carotenoids, and thus were a smidge healthier. (But the potatoes were going to be fried, so who am I kidding.) For the oven fries I found a recipe on Eating Well that looked promising and instead used that as my reference for my “healthy” fries.

The day of my adventure, I purchased ten pounds (about five pounds too many) of Yukon Golds, as well as peanut oil and dried parsley—for a dash of green—at my local supermarket. The peanut oil was for frying, as everything I read kept pointing to peanut oil as the ideal oil due to its high smoke point. I already had salt, olive oil and ketchup at home. I was ready.

First, I rinsed and chopped five pounds of potatoes into relatively even batons. My knife skills are passable at best, so following the instructions found on Smitten Kitchen I was able to cut reasonably evenly sized fries. Recipes all recommended drying the potatoes first to ensure maximum contact with the oil—so I spread them out over paper towels. All told, almost an entire roll of paper towels was used in my frying adventure.

french fries evenly cut

My attempt at evenly cut fries (pretty good!) Photo: Erin Child

While the fries dried, I turned the oven on to 450˚F and then poured 4 1/3 cups of peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot before turning the burner to medium-high. I placed the thermometer into the pot and watched as the temperature slowly climbed to 325˚F. While I waited, I made the oven fries.

I dressed two and a half pounds of the potato batons with four tablespoons of olive oil, a heaping half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of ground thyme, and enough parsley flakes to fleck them all with green. The potatoes went on an unlined baking sheet and into the 450˚F oven. Per the Eating Well instructions, the fries would need to be flipped after ten minutes. When I went to flip the fries, they all stuck to the pan. Panicked, I left them in for another five minutes. When I checked them again, the starches in the potatoes must have shifted, because the fries were golden-brown on the bottom and easy to flip. I left them in for another eight minutes. At this point, most of the fries had two golden-brown sides, so I pulled them from the oven. Once they were cooled enough, my friends and I dug in.

They required more salt than was in the recipe, and they were not crisp, but the flavor was good. As one friend put it, “they taste like a bite-sized baked potato.” Savory and satisfying, but not really a French fry. Next time I try oven fries (and there will be a next time) I may try hand-rotating them to get a better, crispier sear on each side and make them taste closer to the real (fried) thing.

At this point, my peanut oil was ready to go. The double-fry recommendations were to fry once at 325˚F for about 8-10 minutes, let the fries rest, and then fry again at 375˚F for 3-4 minutes. So, I put the full 2.5 pounds of potatoes in the oil. That was my first mistake. The pot was too small for all those potatoes, and the temperature dropped to below 200˚F. For the next ten minutes I essentially gave all the potatoes a warm oil bath. After nothing was noticeably frying, I took all the potatoes out and tried again. This time, I fried them in two batches at 325˚F for 10 minutes. Then increased the temperature of the oil to 375˚F. To my surprise, I did not need the splatter screen. At all. If I was mindful of my movements there was minimal splash back, and the hot oil did not splatter out of the pan during frying.

french fries frying

Warming up for the second attempt. Photo: Erin Child

The second fry at 375˚F also occurred in two batches, and was three minutes per batch. After removing them from the pot, I immediately tossed the fries in a liberal dash of salt. Crispy, golden, salty and warm—they were the clear winner of the evening. Not too shabby for my first batch of French fries.

oven fries and french fries

Oven fries (left) vs French fries (right). Photo: Erin Child

During clean up, I decided to remeasure the peanut oil, and found that I had four cups left. This mean than a third-cup went into the French fries. This is only about one more tablespoon of oil than I used for the oven fries, which was a smaller difference than I expected.

Overall, nothing quite beats the taste and texture of a fried French fry, but for my health and wallet (all that peanut oil was expensive!), I’ll keep homemade French fries to a very occasional treat.

Erin Child is a second year NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program. She is also the social media editor for the Sprout. At this point in the semester she is frequently procrasti-cooking and cleaning—her belly is full, her room is spotless, and she always has a paper to write.

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