Friday, July 10, 2009

Cook's Illustrated Cold Oil French Fries

The most recent issue of Cook's Illustrated includes a great, Domestic Agenda tested recipe for French Fries. It upends the traditional method of frying russet potato strips twice by using yukon golds, which are less starchy, and only frying them once, starting with cold oil. I knew when I tested it that it easily yielded wonderfully browned, tasty fries, but I found out after reading the finished article they're also apparently less greasy (by 1/3) than those made using the traditional method. Win-win. I highly recommend you take the 'option' to include the bacon fat. Pig-a-licious!

Easier French Fries
From Cook's Illustrated August 2009

2 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes (about 6 medium), scrubbed, dried, sides squared off, and cut length-wise in 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch batons (strips)

6 cups peanut oil

1/4 cup bacon fat, strained, optional

Kosher Salt

1. Combine potatoes, oil, and bacon fat (if using) in large Dutch oven. Cook over high heat until oil has reached rolling boil, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, without stirring, until potatoes are limp but exteriors are beginning to firm, about 15 minutes

2. Using tongs, stir potatoes, gently scraping up any that stick, and continue to cook, stirring ocacasionally, until golden and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Using skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer fries to thick paper bag or paper towels. Season with salt and serve immediately.


Joleen Cannon said...

I tried this recipe (found on another site) I used canola oil and a cast iron pan. The fries cooked in 15 minutes, were over done on the outside and very mushy. Do you think using canola oil instead of peanut could be the difference? I will try again using peanut oil. What are your thoughts?

Leslie Klug said...

Hi Joleen. My guess is that you will have better results if you use a dutch oven or pot deeper than a cast iron skillet. The type of oil shouldn't matter as much as having the potatoes fully immersed in lots of it! Let me know how your second try comes out.

doug l said...

I tried this method from Cook's same day I read it over a year ago when I coincidentally just happened to have both peanut oil and yukon golds, and it worked beautifully.
Since then I've tried it with russetts and with canola and they're OK too and had all the basic performance characteristics, but the russetts were tougher and the canola...well, it tastes like canola instead of peanut oil, and so they don't really taste like the pommes-frits in Belgium where I first had them a long time ago...and I never forgot them.
I just made a batch and am sitting here savoring the lingering deliciousness of them, but notice that while the articles all talk about how crispy they get, mine don't really. I do use a steep walled sauce pan (mine's pyrex and works great) and I think that helps to keep the heat even. The vigorous bubbling certainly insures the same top to bottom temps. Anynow, mine stay soft, or maybe limp is a better word, which is a lot like the fries I had at Waterloo, and I'm not complaining because the interiors are so creamy good and the limpness is not really greasy and the exteriors still have a nice 'tooth' to 'em even if not crispy in the way I think many think of crisp here, meaning like oven-baked crinkle-cuts or something from a fast-food place where I don't doubt they get the temps way up there.
Oh...and because the oil doesn't get as hot (according to Cook's the oil stays at about 280F), the oil stays fresh looking and tasting and not acrid. I've used it for a half-dozen batches and there's no burnt stuff in there and the color is just like fresh and even takes on a hint of the delicious potato aroma I associate with a freshly opened bag of nice quality potato chips. I'm wishin' I had a nice lambec or a Stella Artois to quaff along side me right now. Cheers.

daniel said...

The problem with your fries is due ENTIRELY to your Pyrex sauce pan. The reason that Cook's recommends a Dutch oven is not so much for its volume, but rather for the inherent thickness of the metal, which averages a solid 1/8th of an inch all the way around, as opposed to your sauce pan's 1/32nd of an inch. Thick metal takes longer to heat, it's true, but it will also reach higher temperatures and retain that temp much better than a thin-walled, which in turn translates to hotter oil temperatures.

The method you're currently using allows the oil to get hot enough to cook the potatoes through, but not hot enough to burst the starch cells on the outside of the potato pieces, which is how the crispiness of perfect fries is formed. If you switch to a thick-walled dutch oven (or even a cast-iron sauce pan, though this is not recommended, as very few cast-iron sauce pans are deep enough to accommodate any significant amount of oil and potatoes), your problems should clear up.

Leslie Klug said...

Thanks, Daniel! To add to the pot discussion: I successfully made these in a friend's kitchen a few weeks ago using a deep, wide metal pot. Not as good as a dutch oven (none was available), but it worked.

daniel said...

Glad to be of service, Leslie. I'm an amateur gourmet chef, and a devotee of Cook's Illustrated. The simple science behind many of the strange or backwards-seeming decisions in CI recipes fascinates me, and once you start thinking within those confines, you find new avenues opening up to improve many of your favourite recipes.

Simon Food Favourites said...

i recently tried this method and worked well. :-)