While the Incas invented many techniques for preparing potatoes, frying was not one of them. They either baked or boiled or made flour from them. Until after the arrival of the Europeans, the New World had no cooking oil. But in Europe, with lard and olive oil, frying was a common mode of cooking.
Fried potato recipes began to evolve around the late 1700s and early 1800s. Fritters, pancakes, latkes, hash browns, home fries, and rosti were made under various names around the world. Cottage and home fries became breakfast fare, but deep-frying was mastered in France during the late eighteenth century and the resulting dish was called pommes de terre frites, pommes frites, or pomfrits. In Potato: A Global History, author Andrew Smith notes that in 1801 President Thomas Jefferson brought a French chef to the White House and made a note of a recipe for pommes de terre frites à cru, en petites tranches (raw potatoes cut into small strips and fried).
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Excerpted from Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked – And Fried, Too! By Raghavan Iyer. Published by Workman Publishing Co., Inc. Copyright © 2016 Raghavan Iyer. Photo by Matthew Benson.
What makes these French fries Ultimate? The proper technique of cutting the potatoes into the right width, the double frying method (the second frying after being dusted with cornstarch), and the perfect temperatures during both the frying stages deliver the crispy-on-the outside and tender-on-the-inside fry.
- 1 pound large russet potatoes
- canola oil for deep frying
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- coarse sea or kosher salt for sprinkling
- coarsely cracked black peppercorns for sprinkling
- Fill a large bowl with cold water. Scrub the potatoes well under running water. Peeling them or leaving the skin on is a personal preference. (I love them both ways but then I love potatoes every way, so that really should not surprise you.) Slice the potatoes lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick planks. Stack a few planks and cut them lengthwise into ⅛- to ¼-inch-wide fingers. (Alternatively, you can use a mandoline with its french-fry blade in place or the french-fry disk on a food processor.) Submerge the cut potatoes immediately in the bowl of water to prevent them from discoloring and to rid them of excess surface starch.
- As the potatoes soak, pour oil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches into a wok, Dutch oven, or large saucepan. Heat the oil over medium heat until a candy or deep-frying thermometer inserted into the oil (without touching the pan bottom) registers 325°F. (I cannot emphasize too much the importance of a thermometer if you wish to make perfect fries.) Line a cookie sheet with several layers of paper towels and set a wire rack on top, for draining the partially cooked potatoes of excess oil.
- Lay out a clean cotton kitchen towel or several layers of paper towels on the counter, for drying the potatoes. Drain the potatoes in a colander and rinse them a bit under running water. Give the colander a good shake or two to rid the potatoes of excess water. Spread out the potatoes on the towel and dry them well.
- Divide the potatoes into 4 equal portions. Drop a portion gently into the oil. You will notice the temperature dip down 30°F or so. Allow the potatoes to cook at that temperature, stirring a couple of times, until they appear a bit soft and pale brown, about 5 minutes. Do not let them sit any longer in the oil. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the rack to drain. Return the oil to 325°F and repeat with the remaining potatoes. When you’re done, turn off the heat.
- Once the potatoes have all had a chance to drip excess oil, transfer them to a medium-size bowl and sprinkle the cornstarch over them, snow-like. Toss to coat the potatoes well with the starch. Remove the paper towels from the cookie sheet and give it a wipe to clear off any remaining oil. Transfer the potatoes back to the cookie sheet, spread them out into a single layer, and place them in the freezer to chill for about 10 minutes. (You can let them freeze at this point. Once frozen, move them to a zip-top bag. They’ll keep, frozen, for up to a month.)
- When you are ready to eat, line a medium-size bowl with several layers of paper towels. Crank up the heat under the oil (the same oil if you’re continuing right away, fresh oil if you had frozen the potatoes) until the thermometer registers at 400°F. Carefully drop one-quarter of the chilled (or frozen) fries into the oil. The temperature will drop to around 375°F. Make sure the heat under the pan is adjusted to maintain this temperature. As soon as the fries are caramel brown and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes, fish them out of the hot oil with a slotted spoon and drop them into the paper towel-lined bowl. Toss them gently to remove excess oil. Sprinkle the salt and peppercorns over them, toss again. Repeat frying, draining, sprinkling, and serving the remaining potatoes in 3 more batches. No, do not wait to serve them until all of them are fried. They are best as soon as you sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
Skip the ketchup. Serve these chips with bowls of Creamy Jalapeño Sauce or Black Bean-Queso Dip.
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