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Les Halles Fries

Updated February 23, 2016
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There were surely few lowlier, more stupid moments in American history than when a few boobish media whores started talking about changing the name of French fries to “Freedom Fries.” First of all, the French call them frites–and could hardly care less what we call them. (I’m sure that, if anything, they were amused at the mini-controversy, as it seemed to confirm their worst assumptions about the savage and “uncultured” Americans.)

Second of all, frites are very likely a Belgian invention. Third, if you really want to hurt the French, just keep opening McDonald’s franchises and Euro Disneys. And, of course, continue making better movies and popular music than they do. They really hate that. Which is to say it’s never a good idea to mix politics and food. I’m no fan of Donald Rumsfeld, for instance; but if he makes a good sandwich, I’ll certainly eat it.

We’re famous for our fries at Les Halles. Many have said that we make the best fries in New York. Naturally I agree. Your fries, on the other hand, very likely suck. Most people don’t bother to make fries at home. There’s the oil disposal problem for one. After cooking one batch of fries for dinner, you’re stuck with a few quarts of heavy, messy, used oil that you can’t dump down the drain, can’t pour in the garbage, and can’t throw over the fence into Flanders’ yard. Unlike a restaurant, which can and will reuse the oil until it’s dead (and get money for selling the used oil to renderers), it’s not likely you’ll be regularly frying spuds at your place. As well, restaurants have large, professional deep fryers that are drained at the end of the night by a dishwasher or porter.

There’s plenty of room to cook lots of fries in those things—and you don’t even have to clean up afterward. Chances are, the first time you made fries, you put too many potatoes in the oil at one time, and they became greasy, limp, and inadequately caramelized. Maybe you didn’t even bother to blanch them. In the end, no matter how hard you tried to suspend disbelief, you knew your fries just didn’t make it.

Reasonably cheap deep fryers are available for home use. They cost around fifty dollars and are probably your best option for trying the following at home. You can regulate the temperature. Most make it easier to dispose of the oil. There’s plenty of room. And there’s all sorts of other fun you can have: making chips, spring rolls, croquettes, frizzled garnishes, batter-fried fish, and so on. Alternatively, you can fill a heavy-bottomed pot with a load of oil, crank up the flame, and use a thermometer to tell you when it’s at the right temperature. Later, presumably when it’s cool, you can pour the oil back in the containers it came in and dispose of it.

There are a few very important factors in the making of a really good French fry:

THE OIL. You need lots of it. You can’t make a decent fry in a skillet with a pathetic inch of oil in it. The fries won’t cook evenly. Peanut oil is what we use at Les Halles. And peanut oil is what you should use. In a perfect world, we’d love to render down some beef fat, or the kidney fat from veal, and fry in that. But these fats break down quickly and would be prohibitively expensive and difficult to work with in a busy restaurant situation: You’re chucking out your oil after one use anyway, though, right? So you might, after mastering the peanut oil version, try that out yourself. It makes a real difference.

THE POTATO. An Idaho potato, roughly peeled, is what we use. Specifically, we use what’s called a GPOD 70 potato—meaning it’s an Idaho potato of a certain size conducive to perfect fry-dom. It comes 70 to a case.

BLANCHING. If you don’t blanch your fries first, you’ll get a scandalously bad result. Blanching is a must.

FRYING. To the right doneness. Not too many at a time. The fries should float free in the hot oil, not be lumped together so they stick.

DRAINING AND SEASONING. So, let’s make fries. But do it right. There’s no half-ass way to make a French fry. Respect and observe the tenets of fry-dom and you’ll be well on your way.

EQUIPMENT

2 large bowls

Deep fryer or heavy-bottomed pot

Skimmer or wire basket (if using a pot)

Baking sheet

Towel

Serves4

Cooking Methodfrying

CostInexpensive

Moderate

Total Timeunder 2 hours

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together, game day

Recipe Courseside dish

Dietary Considerationside dish

Equipmentdeep fryer

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Mealdinner, lunch

Taste and Texturecrisp, salty, savory

Ingredients

  • 4 Idaho potatoes, big, long ones
  • 2 quarts/2.25 liters or more peanut oil to fill fryer (or pot)
  • Table salt

Instructions

STEP ONE: PREP

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Peel the potatoes and cut them into ½-inch- (1-cm-) thick sticks. Put them immediately into the bowl of ice water to keep them from oxidizing. Leave them in the water anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight, then rinse well in cold water to take out much of the starch.

STEP TWO: BLANCH

In a deep fryer or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil to 280°F (140°C). Cook the potatoes in batches, about 6 to 8 minutes for each batch, until they are soft and their color has paled from opaque white to a semitranslucent white. Do not get impatient and yank them out early. Remove them from the oil with the skimmer or wire basket and spread evenly on the baking sheet. Let them rest at least 15 minutes.

STEP THREE: FRY

Bring the oil up to 375°F (190°C). No hotter, no cooler. Fry the blanched potatoes in batches for 2 to 3 minutes each, or until they are crispy and golden brown. Remove from the oil with the skimmer or wire basket, shake off the excess oil, and…

STEP FOUR: SERVE

…immediately drop the fries into the other large bowl, which has been lined with a clean, dry towel. Add salt to taste and whip out the towel. Toss the fries around in the bowl and serve while still hot.

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Excellent recipe -- I found the admonishment to blanch the fries really did make the difference between "Good" and "Exceptional". We use an inexpensive 6 Qt cast iron Dutch oven with a thermometer for frying, then cover the pot of oil (yes, after it's cooled) with its heavy lid and save for another day. If you're careful not to let the oil get hotter than 380, it can be reused 3 or 4 times in a month with little loss of quality.

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