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.

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16 Responses to “French fries the Robuchon way”

  1. I’ve never actually tried this method, for the same reason as you – completely slips my mind. I think it’s time to give it a try. I love good french fries above almost all else…. (Your blog is great – i just need to learn not to read it when i’m hungry. Loving all the sous vide techniques)

  2. Matthew Kayahara November 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks, Barbara, I appreciate the kind words. Try out the French fry technique and let me know what you think!

  3. Thanks for sharing the technique! I guess I didn’t get to that chapter in Steingarten’s book. Although we have a fryer, this method sounds perfect for a cast iron frying pan.

  4. Okay, Matthew, I did our fries the Joel Robuchon way tonight and I am a come-out-preaching convert. They came out better than anytime I’ve tried the two temperature two cook method.

    I did them in a two quart saucepan tonight with two cups of canola oil, but the potato batons broke up a bit when I tried to turn them around.

    Next time I may try them in a deep skillet where they have a bit more breathing and turning space. But the method and the outcome? Superb!!!

  5. Matthew Kayahara November 8, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Glad you liked them, Skip! I made them again on Thursday night, and found that a couple of them broke, too – and some of them stuck to the bottom of the pot, though they did release eventually. I think it’s just a question of stirring them up at the right time. It still feels like such an easy method, especially given the quality of the results.

  6. I use the Robuchon method exclusively now (it was another eG thread that got me started.)
    I’ve always used a cast iron pan for Robuchon fries, but I’m starting to experiment with a hammered wok.
    I give my fries a fast start, with warm oil and high heat underneath, and the thermometer installed. Works every time.

  7. Ken in Canada July 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Used a regular aluminum pot, cut the potatoes 3/8 batons and barely covered with canola oil (2 cups). Started out cold and turned heat to med. high. Stirred every once in a while to prevent sticking. I had a thermometer to monitor temperature and by the time the temperature reached 325 the fries were nice and brown and perfectly cooked. Crispy on the outside and perfect inside. I will only cook fries this way from now on. 🙂 Thanks for the method.

  8. Matthew Kayahara July 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Ken, glad you liked the fries!

  9. Great fries! Can the ;leftover oil be re-used for another batch?


  10. Yes, it can! I just strain it to remove any bits of potato, then store it in a cupboard until the next time I want some. You can use the same several times, until it starts to break down too far.

  11. Isn’t that going to make the fries soak up a lot of oil? I thought that’s the reason why fries should be put in very hot oil so the exterior gets quickly cooked and creats a barrier between interior and oil bath….

  12. I thought that too before I first tried them, but they don’t seem to be any oilier than any other fries I’ve had – and considerably less so than some! I’m not sure what mechanism is at work to prevent them from absorbing more oil than they do. To be clear, though, it’s not that the hot oil creates a barrier; it’s that the steam coming out of the food pushes the oil aside and prevents it from being absorbed. My best guess would be that raw potatoes aren’t porous enough for oil absorption to be an issue.

  13. I have tried this twice now. The first time I follow the post on E-gullet that said heat to ~365ish. The first time I try a recipe, I usually follow it exactly. Against my better judgement, I kept going to about 350. The end product was over done but held promise. 365 is far too hot and may be a typo.

    The second time was yesterday with organic scrubbed baby potatoes still in their skins. They were past their best before date and were on sale for a buck a bag. Deep frying is a horrible way to treat new potatoes but for a dollar I felt I could experiment. I sliced a couple in half to act as done-ness indicators and in they went. At 325 my marker spuds were golden brown so out they came – Perfect! The skin prevents any of the usual crispiness but the centres were almost creamy in texture. Drained on paper towel and doused in a little slat they were wonderful.

    Concerning oil – I had saved the oil from the first batch to re-use for the second. It is only very slightly discoloured, has no off or burnt odour and should be good for one more batch at least.


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