French fries the Robuchon way
OK, let’s face facts. French fries are the best preparation there is for potatoes. Sure, I love creamy, comforting mashed potatoes or a smothered baked potato as much as the next guy, but the supremacy of fries must be acknowledged. They’ve got it all: salt, grease, a crispy exterior and a fluffy interior (or a waxy one, depending on your preference). They can be as lowbrow or as haute cuisine as you want, and they fit in with any meal. Yes, even breakfast.
Of course, the things that make them so great also make them a pain to prepare. First and foremost, they have to be fresh, which means it’s hard to prepare them, using home equipment, for large numbers of people. They’re also messy; they use a lot of oil, which tends to spatter and has to be disposed of when you’re done. And, with the traditional method, they’re a lot of work. These factors have all conspired to convince me that French fries are best left in the hands of professionals.
True, I have tried to make fries at home. But I’ve never been entirely happy with the results. Typically, I’ve used a two-stage frying method, which involves a first fry at a low temperature to cook the potato, followed by a cooling off period and then a second fry at a high temperature to brown and crisp the exterior. Invariably, I get one of two results: fries that brown before they get crispy, or fries that never get crispy at all. I think the thermostat on my fryer is part of the problem, but it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools.
This all changed when I finally tried the method for French fries that is attributed to Joël Robuchon as the method he uses at home. I first read about it in Jeffrey Steingarten’s book The Man Who Ate Everything, then promptly forgot about it. Then, when I saw a recent reference to it on eGullet, I decided it was time to try it.
The method breaks all the rules: you fry the potatoes only once, and you start with cold oil. But it’s easy, it uses a small volume of oil and, most importantly, it works.
To make my Robuchon-style fries, I peeled some Russet potatoes, rinsed them and cut them into 3/8-inch batons. These went, unrinsed, into a pot and were covered with room-temperature canola oil – it took about two cups for the two potatoes I used. I heated them on the stove, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking, until the oil was about 325°F and the fries were brown and crispy. And that was it.
The resulting fries had my ideal texture, and it didn’t feel like a hassle to make them for a quick weeknight dinner. In fact, I can only think of one drawback to this method: the caloric impact of making fries that much more often.