Today is Bastille Day, the French equivalent of our Independence Day. So what better way to celebrate our French friends than by enjoying what is their most ubiquitous culinary contribution? The French fry!
Food historians disagree on whether the French actually invented what they call pommes frites, or simply frites, and what we know as the French fry. There’s pretty strong evidence the dish was first created in what is now Belgium, while others point to a similar dish in early Spain. (Some of the best “French fries” you’ll ever eat are those served at humble streetside takeaway stands in Belgium, where the crisp, salty potatoes are served in a paper cone and accompanied by homemade mayonnaise. It tastes much better than it sounds.)
Whether they’re Belgian or French, the perfect fry is crispy on the outside but creamy when you bite into it. And once you’ve made them at home yourself, you won’t want to settle for fast-food fries, or even the pre-cut kind you get out of the freezer case.
- Choose the right potato. The best fries are made from a high-starch baking-style potato, like russet or Idaho, not the waxy kind. (New potatoes and red potatoes, for instance, are waxy, not starchy.) Some people also like the Yukon Gold, a creamy, yellow-fleshed potato, but I find that while the flavor is great, those don’t get quite as crisp as a russet.
- Cut, wash, dry: Next, you need to prepare them correctly. Peel, rinse and dry the potatoes. Then cut them into long strips roughly ¼ inch by ¼ inch (for French-style fries) or about ½ inch wide by 3 inches long (for thicker, Belgian-style fries.) Finally, dry them in a colander, or on a dish towel or paper towel. Dry potatoes create the right fried texture, and in addition, drops of water on the potato surface will cause the frying oil to spatter.
- Double-fry: This is a trick that the Belgians _ who, as noted, make a pretty mean fried potato themselves – have refined: Fry the potatoes twice. First, fry potatoes in hot oil for no more than five to six minutes. (Smaller potatoes will need less time; larger pieces, more.) Remove from oil and let rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, or as much as a few hours. Just before serving, bring oil back to frying temperature (325 degrees is often recommended, or consult the manual for your deep fryer). Fry potatoes again in small batches, just one or two minutes per batch. Remove from oil when golden.
- Drain, salt, serve: Drain fries on clean paper towels, then transfer to a serving bowl, lined with fresh paper towels. (For best results, heat the serving bowl briefly in the oven before lining with paper.) Sprinkle with sea salt, and serve immediately. French fries aren’t the kind of food that can sit around; they’re best eaten as hot as you can stand them.