Serves, well, only you know how many fries you can eat. But this is good for 4-6 reasonably demure people
- 2 pounds of russet potatoes (or other varieties, if you insist)
- Fat or oil of your choice, and plenty of it (see Step 1)
- Salt, to taste. If there is no salt on your fries, and you don't have a doctor's excuse, I don't want to hear about how your fries don't taste good
- Fresh herbs, minced, to taste, optional (if you want to be fancy, nothing beats chopped thyme, rosemary, parsley or even basil or tarragon tossed on hot fries)
Special equipment: A big, deep pan, Dutch oven, or pot (a wok is great) for frying. A slotted spoon or long-handled strainer. A frying/candy thermometer is real handy, too, and you can find them in your supermarket for a couple of bucks.
- Some people insist on using a certain quantity of oil to how much food you're going to fry (1 quart to 1 pound) -- the more oil, the more it will hold its temperature when you drop the food in. But it's important to not overfill your frying pot, lest it bubble over, so I'd rather give a visual guide. Fill your pot with at least 3 inches of oil, but make sure you don't come up much past half the volume of the pot (2/3, if the pot is really big). Bring it to 350º over medium or medium-high heat while you prep the potatoes.
- Peel and cut the potatoes into ¼-inch to ½-inch sticks. I don't care which size you prefer, but the fries have to all be roughly the same size. If it's slow going, feel free to keep the potatoes in a bowl of cold water as you keep working so they don't discolor.
- When the potatoes are cut, rinse them in cold water, drain them, and dry them thoroughly with paper towels.
- When oil is at 350º, carefully lower in the potatoes, as many as you can while still giving them room to swim around. (Do this in batches if you need to.) The potatoes will lower your oil temperature significantly; adjust the heat to keep it around 300º to 320º and cook, stirring so they don't stick together, until the potatoes are tender and just barely beginning to turn golden. Fish potatoes out with the strainer and let them drain on a tray lined with paper towels; try to get them spread out in one layer. Let cool. (If you'd like, you can do this up to a day before, or longer if you freeze them in this partially cooked state.)
- When it's time to serve, heat oil to 400º. Add the potatoes, being extra careful not to crowd them. Keeping the oil hot here (375º) is vital for good crispness and color, so you really want to baby the fries in terms of giving them plenty of room. But don't let them get the wrong idea -- you're not coddling them, you're going to fry them mercilessly, stirring for about 2 or 3 minutes, until they're your preferred color of French fries and are crisp and wonderful. (If you can't fit all the potatoes in the fryer at once, cook them in batches and keep the finished ones warm in a 200° oven.)
- Lift the fries from the pot with the slotted spoon or strainer and place them in a large bowl triple-lined with paper towels. Toss immediately with salt (and herbs, if using), and to let the paper wick away any surface grease. Eat one immediately to convince yourself how much better this is than just going out for fast food.