As much as Americans love french fries, you would think they were invented here. Not so. While the name suggests they are of French origin, that's not true either. These delectable tubers are actually of Belgian descent. When American soldiers went to Belgium during the World War I, they saw potatoes being cooked in oil. The name "french" comes from the word for cutting vegetables or meat lengthwise into strips. All you need are potatoes and vegetable oil to make this favorite side. While you already know how and when to eat french fries, you might love them even more when you make them from scratch and serve them piping hot. These instructions apply to making sweet potato fries as well.
How to Make French Fries
1. Prepare the Potatoes
- The ideal french fries have a crisp, golden exterior and a light, mealy interior. Russet or Idaho potatoes (high-starch potatoes) will give you the best results, although Finnish yellow, Yukon gold, or other all-purpose potatoes will work. Low-starch potatoes, such as round red or white or new potatoes, are the least preferable. For four to six servings, start with 4 medium baking potatoes (or sweet potatoes), or about 1-1/2 pounds. Usually the potatoes are peeled, but you can leave the peel on. To prevent peeled potatoes from darkening, immerse them in a bowl of ice water.
- The trick for uniform fries is to first cut the potato into a rectangular shape by cutting off both ends. Next, cut straight down one side to make a flat surface. Repeat on the other three sides so you end up with a rectangular potato. Next, cut the potato into 1/4- to 3/8-inch strips.
- If you prefer, you can cut the potato into thin wedges. Try to cut them so they are about 1/2 inch wide at the widest part of the potato.
2. Heat the Oil for Frying
- It's important to use an oil suitable for deep-frying when making fries. Some oils, such as olive and flaxseed, are not appropriate because they have low smoke points (325°F and below) and will smoke, discolor, and break down at low temperatures. Oils with a higher smoke point (396°F to 414°F) that work well for deep-frying include canola and peanut.
- One of the secrets for deep-frying foods is to keep the fat at a constant high temperature. This is best done by using a heavy, flat-bottom pan and a deep-fat thermometer to monitor the oil temperature. In a heavy deep 3-quart saucepan or fryer, heat oil to 365°F (the pan should be no more than half full).
3. Fry the Potatoes
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- Drain the potatoes well. Using paper towels, pat the potatoes thoroughly to dry.
- Fry the potatoes, about one-third at a time, until tender in the centers and edges are crisp and golden, about 5 to 6 minutes, turning once.
- Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the fries from the hot oil and transfer to clean paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Keep the cooked fries warm on a baking pan in the oven while frying remaining potatoes. Click here for more tips on deep-fat frying.
How to Bake Fries in the Oven
While the taste and texture isn't quite the same as the deep-fried version, homemade fries can be made successfully in the oven, by baking them at a high temperature:
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with parchment paper or foil.
- Prepare the potatoes as in Step 1 above. Place them in a resealable plastic bag. Spray the potatoes with nonstick cooking spray. Combine 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in small bowl. Add the seasoning mixture to the potatoes in the bag; close the bag. Shake to coat the potatoes with seasoning mixture. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on the prepared baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until crisp and tender when poked with a fork, turning once. If desired, sprinkle the potatoes with salt.