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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Picnic Fries

Picnic Fries

Nothing goes better with a good hamburger or pulled pork BBQ than a side of french fries. By the same token, nothing can ruin a good hamburger or good pulled pork BBQ worse than a side of bad french fries. It's a simple concept; good fries are delicious and bad fries are just horrendously bad.

It's easy to cook bad french fries, I guess. You just slice some potatoes or buy some already sliced up for you from the freezer section of your grocer, put them in some hot fat and cook them until they turn brown. Yes, that is easy. But, to cook perfect french fries takes a labor of love. It doesn't happen by accident and it does take some trial and error.

To me, bad fries fall into three basic categories: greasy flimsy, chip crunchy, and crunchy hollow. The greasy flimsy fries are the ones that have no crunch and are usually greasy. They are kind of like little grease sponges that have absorbed ample quantities of fat that causes them to droop under their own weight. Chip crunchy fries are more like thick potato chips. They look good on the outside but when you bite into one of them it's dry and crunchy all the way through. The crunchy hollow fries are the worst of the worst. You pick up a crispy fry thinking that it is going to be really good, you bite it and it shatters between your teeth because all of the potato on the inside has been cooked out of it.

To me, perfect french fries are not greasy. They are deliciously crispy on the outside and have a pillow of fluffy potato goodness on the inside. And, most importantly, they stay crunchy the whole time I am eating my meal. I guess you could say that I want my french fries to have everything. I want them to be light and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside even after they have cooled down and are cold.

I cooked a lot of potatoes in my journey to produce my perfect french fries. The recipe and method I list here is the closest I have come to cooking them. This recipe yields a delightfully crispy fry on the outside and a fluffy inside of potato goodness. And, the best part is, they stay crispy and light even after they turn cold. To me, they would be the perfect fries to take on a picnic. They hold up that well. But, they are so tasty while hot it will be very hard to make a batch last long enough to cool down. Now, on to the recipe.

You will need russet potatoes, cold water, apple cider vinegar, canola oil (or your favorite deep frying oil), and kosher salt. Start by peeling the potatoes and slice them into about 1/4" square strips. It's important to make sure the strips are as uniformly sized as possible as this helps to ensure they all cook evenly. If you have a french fry slicer, all the better.

Once the potatoes are peeled, rinsed, and sliced, submerge them in cold water mixed with apple cider vinegar. The proportion of vinegar I use is 2 TBS of vinegar to 3 cups of water. Make sure you have enough of the water/vinegar mixture to cover the potato strips. Let the potatoes soak in the water/vinegar mixture for 30 minutes. I have let the potatoes soak longer but I don't think it brings anything to the party to do so.

About 10 minutes before the potatoes will finish soaking start to bring a pot of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt for every 4 cups of water you are boiling. When the potatoes have soaked for 30 minutes put them in the boiling water, wait for the water to start boiling again and boil them for exactly 10 minutes. Now would be a good time to start bringing the oil in your fryer up to 325 degrees F.

After 10 minutes of boiling, remove the potato strips from the boiling water and let them dry on paper towels. At this stage you can refrigerate the fries to be deep fried later or just go straight to the deep fryer AFTER YOU DRY THEM WELL. You don't ever want to put water in your hot deep fryer. That's very dangerous.

Now, you will need to double fry the potatoes. Fry them for about 3 to 4 minutes at 325 degrees F. You don't want them to start to brown at this stage. Remove them from the oil and let them drain on a rack. Bring the oil up to about 360 to 375 degrees F and fry the potatoes again until they reach a medium brown color. You can experiment with the color to find what you prefer.

When the fries are done, place them on a rack to drain and sprinkle them with kosher salt to taste and enjoy. And, if you have the will power, let some hang out and cool down and give them a try. You will be surprised how delicious and crispy they remain even after they are cold.

Crispy outside, fluffy inside even after they cool down.

By the way, the Sweet & Smokey Dipping Sauce shown in the photo goes perfectly with these fries. Click here for the recipe.

On a side note, "French fried" potatoes in Virginia go back much further than what we are generally told. The story goes that the recipe for french fries was brought back to America by soldiers who fought in France and Belgium in WWI.

However, in The Virginia House-Wife By Mary Randolph published in 1836, Mrs. Randolph gives us a recipe "To Fry Sliced Potatoes" where she tells us to peel potatoes, slice them about 1/4" thick, and fry them in lard or dripping" (hello duck fat) and to "keep them moving until crisp; take them up and lay them to drain on a sieve; send them up with very little salt sprinkled on them."

I think Mrs. Randolph would approve of my picnic fries.

Deep frying food can be dangerous. Please observe all precautions.

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