Tuesday, February 09, 2010

This Spud's For You

I will always respect people who work at fast-food places, because that was how I learned the secret of crisp french fries. French fries are not necessarily French, by the way, although the origin is based on the deep-fry approach to cooking things. Many people get cravings for french fries, but can't seem to get them to come out crispy at home.
It's not hard, but it does require the Boy Scout approach to cooking: Be prepared. Prepare several hours in advance, and you are all but certain to turn out crisp, golden-brown fries at home too. The "secret" is rinsing, blanching, and chilling (or freezing) before the finishing fry step.
Since I'm in Idaho, I have all kinds of good spuds at hand. The variety doesn't matter much, because the rinsing will get rid of most of the excess starch, which is what makes home-fried fries soggy. Peeling also ensures that all the fries will be crispy. Leave the skin on if you like, but the pieces with skin will not be as uniformly crisp. Cut the potato into stips. About one-quarter inch on a side seems to be the optimum for uniform cooking, but we're not measuring here.
Put the cut potato pieces in clear cold water for about an hour, changing the water a couple of times to rinse away the leeched potato starch. I then put the potato pieces on paper towel to blot away excess water.
Blanching can be done in a fry pan, with enough oil (I use a blend of nine parts canola and one part peanut oil for taste, to cover the bottom of the pan about one-quarter inch deep. You don't need to use a deep-fry vat. Heat the oil (medium-high is usually enough). I drop a test potato piece in first. It should quickly bob to the surface bubbling. Add potatoes to cover the bottom of the pan, but don't overload. It's better to make two or three small batches. Blanching should cook the potato to a translucent color, just as the edges start to turn color. Remove the potato pieces, drain away the oil and place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. An overnight stay in the freezer compartment works even better.
After the potatoes are blanched and chilled, they are ready to be cooked in hot oil. Finishing to a nice golden brown takes just a few minutes per batch. Drain the pieces and sprinkle with a little salt and you're in homemade french fry heaven.