I’m still getting into the swing of bread baking with the combo cooker; the loaves have been too wet after baking for my taste, so the adjustments continue. In the meantime, I’ve been amusing myself with croissants (commercial-yeast leavened, fantastic nevertheless). That story and those photos are yet to come. Tonight, though, we depart from baking to bask in the scientific glory of cold-oil frying. Tonight, we come to the time in every woman’s life, when she must break out her attachments.
Cold-oil frying is the latest thing that’s been around the French kitchen for decades. Like eating modest portions of rich foods, baking bread and infidelity, frying is one of the things the French do better than their American cousins. The concept is simple and predates the hyper-accurate, instant-read thermometer of the home kitchen. The fries, cut, rinsed and dried before being submerged in cold fat, cook internally as the oil slowly comes up to deep-frying temperature on medium heat. Once the ideal frying temperature is reached, the internally-cooked fries are then treated to the final crisping of the hot-oil bath. This replaces two other methods of achieving the same result:
Belgian. The Belgians are serious about their fries, poaching in lower-temp oil and resting at room temperature before briefly dunking, in higher-temp oil, to finish the exterior.
American. Americans are also serious about their fries, but less efficient. The poaching is done with water, requiring the softened, delicate fries to be carefully patted dry before a final dunk into hot oil. Unless you enjoy having beefy firemen hose down your fire-ruined kitchen. In that case, don’t bother drying your water-poached fries before finishing them in hot oil. (Remember to send me photos of the firemen.)
One variation I enjoy, from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, finishes the fries in the oven post-poaching and requires minimal oil. It is a superior method of making fresh French fries on a weeknight, since it doesn’t require as much attentiveness as the cold-oil fries and you won’t set your kitchen on fire. Deb Perelman is your gal for many things food, and oven-fried fries (finished with fresh tarragon) is one of them. But I digress.
The cold-oil method, which requires a single pot of sliced, rinsed, dried and oil-submerged potatoes brought up to temp over 30(ish) minutes, has the benefit of utter simplicity, as long as you are willing to be attentive. The rinsing and drying occurs pre-poaching, so you can move with more speed in the initial prep. Oil-poaching is as effective as water-poaching, reducing energy input and waste. The final result, tender on the inside and crunchy on the outside, is everything one desires of a French fry and rarely finds in home versions without expending time/fuss/both.
The Slice.I don’t mind making-due with a sharp chef’s knife. I have the technical skill (but not the speed) to chop, slice, dice, mince and brunoise just about any plant matter. Fennel annoys me; everything else, I’m game. Nonetheless, I own a mandolin, and find it useful when I need to cut up larger quantities of food into pieces of roughly-equal size.
I confess that the first few times I made Deb’s oven-fried fries, I used my chef’s knife and a ruler. I managed to feed my family before anyone starved to death, but it was touch-and-go at times. Don’t do it that way on a weeknight, unless you are used to eating late dinners. Incongruent sizing is also not an option, not with French fries. Precision in the cut is important, to ensure all your fries are cooked-through at roughly the same time. I’m kinda fanatical about that, don’t mind me.
My new favorite cold-oil French fry recipe is from Bruno Albouze; who better than a Frenchman to tell you about a French fry? The YouTube video is here.