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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Ten Spots to Try Next Time You Forget Your Lunch

by Erin Child

Forgot your lunch? Too busy to cook? Consider grabbing a friend (or five) and trying out one of these ten eateries near campus. Compiled from a quick survey (a big thanks to the fifteen students who responded!), I’ve got recommendations for holes-in-the-wall that you’ve probably walked by already, hidden gems, and local & national chains with healthy lunch options. Though numbered, this list isn’t meant to be a ranking. Walking times are measured from Jaharis. Cheers & happy eating!

  1. My Thai Vegan Café

3 Beach St. (4 min walk)

My Thai Vegan Café is a popular spot with students. With ample food and bubble tea options, it’s a fun place to come with a friend. Their lunch special runs from noon to 3pm, and for $8 you get the soup-of-the-day, plus either one fried spring roll or two fried dumplings, hot Jasmine tea, and your entrée. One Friedman student surveyed recommended the Mango Curry (it has great coconut flavor!).

  1. The Little Kitchen

22 Kneeland St (2 min walk)

I recently experienced The Little Kitchen for the first time, and boy is it delicious and filling! Pretty much everything costs less than $10 and the portions provide more than enough for lunch and then another meal. Students love their steamed lotus leaf options, highly recommending the chicken and mushroom option.  One student likes that they have a selection of food that they “haven’t seen in other restaurants around Chinatown.” As it’s basically across the street from school, it’s a must to check out.

  1. Clover Food Lab

160 Federal St (11 min walk)

Clover is a local chain that has many food trucks and storefront locations throughout the greater Boston area. Clover is a vegetarian/vegan joint that tries to source their ingredients as locally as possible. They’ve also recently started serving the Impossible Burger at the Harvard Square location and hopefully it will come downtown soon. Lunch there generally costs between $8-$11. Personally, I am mildly obsessed with their chickpea fritter platters. Clover is slightly further away than other options, but worth the walk!

  1. Gourmet Dumpling House

52 Beach St (4 min walk)

I have it on good authority that Gourmet Dumpling House is a wonderful place to bring a bunch of friends, order a ton of food and stuff yourself with savory dumplings and other Chinese dishes. The prices are great, and the food is delicious. If you’re looking for a dumpling fix, one student recommends the mini juicy pork dumplings and Szechuan dumplings, which will “run you about $12.”

  1. Irashi

8 Kneeland St (3 min walk)

Irashi is a sushi and teriyaki restaurant with a great lunch deal. From 11am-4pm, you can buy miso soup, salad and two sushi rolls for under $14. They offer many different combinations of rolls, so there are plenty of options to choose from! If you’re a sushi lover, other places to check out include Avana Sushi (42 Beach St) or Whole Foods (348 Harrison Ave)—the Hirsch Library in the Sackler building recently started serving sushi, but reviews are mixed.

  1. sweetgreen

354 Harrison Ave (7 min walk)

sweetgreen is a national salad & grain bowl chain beloved by many Friedman students. Their bowls are always chock full of veggies, so you get a guaranteed healthy lunch. They easily accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies, so it’s a stress-free stop for many. Lunch starts at about $9, and can increase to $15+ depending on the bowl you choose and what toppings you add (for example, avocado is an extra $2). Students recommend the ‘The Shroomami Bowl’, ‘Harvest Salad’, and ‘My special salad’ (not actually on the menu, and sadly that student did not give us their special ingredient combination).

  1. Chinatown Café

262 Harrison Ave (3 min walk)

Next time you’re thinking of walking down to the Ink Block complex (home to sweetgreen and Whole Foods), consider stopping into the Chinatown Café (it’s that restaurant with the kitchen right on Harrison with hanging ducks in the window). Students say that they have great BBQ, and you get a lot of food for the price. They take cash only, but lunch won’t cost much more than $8 when you get one their rice, meat and veggie combo plates.

  1. 163 Vietnamese Sandwich

66 Harrison Ave (3 min walk)

The banh mi at 163 Vietnamese Sandwich are reportedly delicious, come with vegetarian and meat options, and cost less than $5 each (cash only). The restaurant has seats, but it’s almost always crowded, so you’re better off grabbing a sandwich, or a noodle or rice meal (under $10) to go. Like many spots in Chinatown, they also have bubble tea (yum!).

  1. Boston Kitchen Pizza

1 Stuart St (4 min walk)

Have four minutes to spare and four dollars in your pocket? Run over to Boston Kitchen Pizza for a quick slice. One student recommended the Spinach & Roasted Garlic slice, which will run you less than $4 and sounds delicious! (If you’re looking for cheap eats and not interested in Pizza, The Dumping King at 42 Beach St is another great option.)

  1. Pho Pasteur

682 Washington St (4 min walk)

Pho Pastuer, a Vietnamese restaurant, is but one pho spot in a neighborhood of many (Pho Hoa at 17 Beach St. was also recommended by another student), but it’s been a favorite of mine since I moved to Boston five years ago. Their pho portions are GIANT, cost from $8-$9.50, and is simply the best food on a rainy and cold November day. They have a large menu that offers more than just pho (if that’s not your thing), and offer both take out and sit-down service.

*Bonus Reminder*

Sackler

145 Harrison Ave (30 second walk)

You forgot your lunch, you literally have no time and you’re looking for a cheap, healthy fix? Seriously consider the salad bar on the 4th floor of the Sackler Library. A small salad will run you $5 and they cram the container full of veggies. Sometimes the best option is right in front of you.

Erin Child is a second year NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program. Up until now, if she ran out of time to pack a lunch she would stubbornly & hangrily wait until she was home to eat. After writing this list she’s been inspired to try new things. Erin is thrilled to be joining the Sprout team as the social media editor this year, and is looking forward to your great articles!