It might sound simple but many cooks still wonder why home cooked French fries often turn soggy while those served in restaurants are firm and crisp.
Some think it’s because the potatoes have been prepared and treated using some special technique. Soaking, pre-cooking, twice frying… These are all good techniques, by the way, but even without those extra steps, it is possible to make crisp French fries at home. Just remember four things.
1. Proportion of the cooking oil to the amount of potatoes
You can’t cook a cup of potatoes in a cup of oil. The potatoes have to float in oil to achieve the desired crispness. Generally (and this isn’t a hard and fast rule), I use at least twice as much oil as the potatoes.
2. Very high temperature of the oil before the potatoes are added
The cooking oil must be hot before the potatoes are added. This is the first key to short cooking. French fried potatoes are deep-fried after all and the trick is short but intense cooking. If the oil isn’t hot enough, the potatoes will soak up so much oil and turn soggy.
The standard frying temperature is 350F (note though that cooking oils have different smoking points). If you’re not using a thermometer, dip a bamboo skewer in the oil. If tiny bubbles form around the skewer, the oil is hot enough. If not, heat for a minute or two longer and repeat the test.
3. Maintaining the very high temperature of the cooking oil while the potatoes cook
If the proportion of potatoes to oil is correct, then it won’t be a problem maintaining the high temperature of the cooking oil during frying. But if the frying pan is overcrowded (too much potatoes and too little oil), the temperature will drop and make the potatoes soggy even if the initial temperature of the oil was correct.
4. Serve at once
Serve your French fries immediately because they start get soggy as they cool.
That said, let me illustrate how I make French fries at home. I am providing a time frame based on the EXIF data of my camera (yes, the exact time when I photo was taken is supplied by the camera). It takes me approximately eight minutes to cook my French fries (minus prep time). If you have a pressure fryer, the job should be done in five minutes.
3:54:01: While cutting the potatoes, the cooking oil was already heating on the stove.
3.57.11: I added the potatoes to the very hot cooking oil. On contact, the oil spattered and a froth formed on the surface. Note that I DO NOT STIR the potatoes. Stirring is not necessary.
3.58.05: The froth has started to subside and some pieces of the potatoes were already breaking into the surface.
3.59.50: The frost has lessened considerably and some of the potato pieces are starting to float.
4.02.46: Many of the potato pieces have floated to the surface and have started to acquire a nice golden color.
4.04.36: Most of the froth has subsided, the potatoes have floated to the surface and they are nicely textured and colored.
4.06.50: I have scooped out the potatoes and I let the oil drip off for about a minute.
Double fried French fries
My daughter, Alex, cooks French fries differently. First, she cuts the potatoes and soaks them in salted water for half an hour or so to remove surface starch. She drains the potatoes and dumps them on a kitchen towel to remove surface moisture. Then, she fries the potatoes following the tried-and-tested technique of cooking Asian fried chicken. She double fries the potatoes. How to double fry?
Proceed as above but, at around the 4.02.46 mark or when the potatoes are just starting to brown, scoop them out and spread on a rack. Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes. Reheat the oil, dump in the partially cooked potatoes and fry until golden and crisp.
Freezing partially cooked French fries
You know those bags of frozen French fries that you can buy from the grocery? They are partially cooked. That’s why they take such a short time to cook. You can partially cook your fries too and store them in the freezer. Take a portion and fry in hot oil until browned and crisp.
To store partially cooked fries, use the double frying method. Fry the potatoes once, cool on a rack, then spread on a tray. Stick the tray in the freezer and freeze the potatoes until rock hard and each piece is coated with very fine ice crystals. Scoop them and dump in resealable bags, and keep frozen. Because they had already frozen without touching one another, even after you transfer them to a bag, they won’t clump together.
When you want your fries, take a bag out of the freezer and dump the contents in hot oil. No, there is no need to thaw. Yes, the oil will spatter initially but that will subside after 20 seconds or so.
Updated from a post originally published in September 7, 2009