French fries, once the snack of fast food restaurants, are now on every sort of menu. Chefs are sprinkling them with sea salt, grated cheeses such as Gruyere, aromatics like olive or truffle oil - and sometimes all of those at once. They're so good you wonder if you should skip the appetizers entirely and tuck into a big stack.
The best are cut by hand and fried twice in fresh, clean oil. For crispy, golden brown fries, you only need starchy potatoes, peanut oil and a heavy, deep pan large enough to hold the oil with space left for bubbling, and a clip-style frying thermometer or a thermostatically controlled deep fat fryer. Then drain, using tongs or a slotted skimmer, toss with plenty of salt, and pass the napkins. They're better than anything you'd be presented at a restaurant.
The best potatoes for French fries are Idaho russets. Their low water content prevents sogginess.
You can leave the skin on. Trim the length of each potato, making a flat base to keep them from rolling. Square off the ends. Then slice into - ¼-inch slices. Stack a few slices at a time and slice lengthwise into ¼-inch wide strips. If they are cut too thick the centers won't cook properly. Soak in cold water for a few hours or as long as 8 hours to remove the starch so they are less likely to stick together. Pat them dry before frying to reduce splatters.
Use clean, properly hot oil. If oil is not hot enough the potatoes will turn soggy. Too hot and the surfaces will brown before the centers are cooked.
Cooking them twice at different temperatures is the secret to fries that never feel, taste or look greasy. The first frying - sometimes called blanching - should be at about 325 degrees. The second frying, at 375 degrees or higher, crisps and browns the outside only, leaving the inside soft.
Don't crowd the fryer. Too many fries cause the temperature of the oil to drop, making the fries soggy. Fry in batches if necessary.
AUTHENTIC GARLIC FRIES
2 pounds russet (baking) potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
¼ cup olive oil
Vegetable oil for deep-frying (about 5 cups)
⅓ cup chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Slice potatoes (skin on) as directed below. Rinse, drain and pat dry. Mix the garlic with the olive oil and set aside. In a deep-fat fryer or heavy pot, pour enough oil to reach a depth of two inches. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to pot, or heat electric deep-fat fryer to 325 degrees. Fry potatoes (in batches if necessary) for five minutes, until tender. Do not brown. Drain on paper towels. At this point they can rest for up to two hours at room temperature. Reheat oil to 375 degrees and refry the potatoes for two to three minutes, until crisp and golden. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Toss the potatoes in a large bowl with the garlic-oil mixture, chopped parsley and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Serves four.
Source: Adapted from "Great Bar Food at Home" (Wiley, $21.99) by Kate Heyhoe.