Long reputed to serve the best fries in the city, Balthazar, the SoHo brasserie, makes classic, thin-cut fries. There are two secrets to making perfect French fries, like Balthazar's: presoaking them (just in water, for a long time), and double frying them (literally, frying them once, letting them cool a bit, and frying them again).
This post is part of the Eating New York series.Yum
You take a couple of russet potatoes, the big, starchy kind. Maybe three if they're on the smaller side. Peel 'em, cut them into thin matchsticks, then perform some kitchen alchemy to transform them into little sticks of wonder that virtually no one can resist. French fries as good as any brasserie or bistro's, seriously.
A caveat: I did use a deep fryer for the job, which makes it a lot easier. You can absolutely fry beautifully in a deep pot. My grandma did just that in her tiny kitchen in Nahariya when it was eleven billion degrees out, and that's Centigrade with no AC. I'm pretty sure she didn't own a kitchen thermometer, either. However, a great small upgrade is to use a thermometer to monitor the oil temperature, which you want right around 375F / 190C for fries. That being said, it is less fussy, the whole double-frying business, with a self-regulating oil tank and a nice draining basket and all that.
By the way, in case you're considering purchasing a deep fryer, I was convinced to buy one by Miri in the Village, who said that basically anyone who celebrates Chanukah should just get themselves one as a gift. I initially though this was a preposterous claim (yet another unpopular food opinion: I'm not generally a fan fried food). But then I realized that we live in Southern California, where the indoor-outdoor kitchen life is totally possible. Just the thought of setting up a deep fryer outside my kitchen for the week-long fry fest that is Chanukah made me kind of giddy, and I mentioned it to my husband, who's never met a fried thing he didn't love. He thought this was the best idea ever. Next thing you know, bam, deep fryer for his Chanukah present. It's served us well in the time we've had it: it's wonderful for parties, turning any cookout into an occasion. And it fries very cleanly, with the food coming out dry and crisp on the outside but wonderful and juicy inside. So yeah, Miri was right.
It's starchy Russet potatoes you want
I am not generally a fan of big, starchy Idaho-type potatoes (#TeamWaxy), but they are perfect for when you need to get nice, crisp, potato exterior, as in latkes and fries. I buy them specifically for this purpose. One whole Russet (that's the name of the variety) goes a long way. I usually fry up just one or two at a time. If I can find organic Russets, they are usually smaller and I'll use more, three or four.
Hand cutting French fries
For brasserie-style fries, you want them to be thin, about ¼" / 6mm square. This is not too tricky to accomplish due to the shape of Russet potatoes. I start by peeling them and cutting them in half lengthwise. That is, you want your fries to be as long as your potato. Then I slice each half into ¼" / 6mm slices. I divide the half in half, so there's a nice, flat side to turn each quarter onto. Then I slice again to make the other ¼" edge.
After nearly slicing off the tip of my finger twice with a mandolin slicer (the second time was wearing metal-mesh safety gloves), I got rid of the infernal thing and decided to switch to (fancy-sounding?) hand-cut fries. Honestly, I don't see a massive difference, except that my fingers are fully intact. But if you're on good terms with your mandolin, feel free to avail yourself of it.
Soaking french fries
There are two secrets to making fries like Balthazar's, and the first is soaking them overnight (or all day) in a bowl of plain water. Just prep your bowl of water before you start cutting the fries, and cover and stick it in the fridge for 8-12 hours. This keeps them from browning unattractively, and, more germane to our goal, something something about osmosis and crispness, would be my guess.
About 20 minutes before you're ready to fry—after you set up the oil and start heating it up—you'll need to completely dry your fries. Drain them from the water and blot them well, though somewhat delicately, in an absorbent kitchen towel. Leave them to dry (they shouldn't brown on you) until the oil is ready.
Double frying French fries
The second secret to Balthazar-like fries is double frying them. I'm not sure what the chemistry says about this, but we ran numerous taste tests and my panel of French fry aficionados maintain that double frying is mandatory for proper French fries. (This is a different philosophy from that of Israeli fries, which we'll cover in a subsequent lecture, natch.) Is it a bit extra, what with the searing hot oil everywhere? Not going to sugar coat it. Yep. However. It will elevate your fries game for not a whole lot more than shuffling the fries in and out of the fryer.
In the picture above, the top pile of fries is single-fried while the bottom has already been double-fried. You'll take the fries out the first time when they're just been kissed by a medium-golden hue. Let them drain and when they're mostly dry to the touch, put them right back in the hot oil (make sure it's back up to temp). This time, you'll let them get darker, a rich, deep gold around the edges. They'll emerge ethereally crispy with just the right texture in the center.
Now go argue amongst yourselves about the appropriate dipping medium, until you're an always-ketchup crew, in which case, we'll pass it right over. None of that mayo business for us.
Balthazar Style French Fries (parve)
- 2 large or 4 small starchy potatoes, such as Russet
- 1 gallon high-temperature oil, for frying, approximately - 4L
- salt or seasoning salt, to taste
Cut and soak the fries:
- Set up a large bowl filled about ⅔ of the way with cold tap water.
- Working one potato at a time, peel and slice into ¼" / 6 mm square, long matchsticks, the length of the potato. Place the cut fries in the bowl of water.
- When all the fries are cut, cover and place in the refrigerator to soak for 8-12 hours.
Prepare for frying:
- Pour the frying oil into a deep fryer or large pot, such as a Dutch oven. If using a separate thermometer, clip it to the side of the pot. Heat the oil to 375°F / 190°C.
- Meanwhile, drain the fries from the soaking water. Blot them dry in an absorbent kitchen towel and leave to dry out thoroughly, about twenty minutes.
- Set up a drying rack over a sheet pan, lined with paper towels or foil if you like for easuer cleanup. Place it near your fryer, so you can drain the fries on it in the next step.
Double fry the French fries:
- When the oil is up to 375°F / 190°C, put about half the batch of fries into the hot oil. Fry for about 3-4 minutes, until the fries are a medium gold color. Remove from the hot oil and allow to drain on the prepared rack. (I recommend putting the first half-batch on the top half or your rack, because it will go back into the oil first.)
- When the oil is back up to temperature, place the second half of the fries in the fryer. Fry again until medium golden, 3-4 minutes. Remove and drain.
- Now you will fry the entire batch a second time. Wait again for the oil to come up to temperature. Take the first half-batch, which should now be quite dry to the touch, and place it back in the oil. Fry for 2-3 minutes, until deep golden and crisp. Remove and drain.
- Allow the oil to return to temperature, then add the second half-batch, now mostly dry, back to the fryer. Fry for 2-3 minutes, completing the batch. Remove and allow to drain for 2-3 minutes, then serve all the fries immediately.