Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pommes de terre pour frire (Different cuts for deep-fried potatoes)

Ah, potatoes. Did you know that The United Nations has declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato! I didn't always love potatoes. When I was growing up, it seemed like potatoes were only boiled and served with butter. I thought they were horrible. Little did I know they could be roasted with garlic, mashed with cream, scalloped with cheddar, twice-baked with cheese and bacon, and best of all twice-fried until they're crispy but tender inside. Now, when I'm out for dinner, I will often order my main dish based on what potato it comes with!

There are many different ways to cut potatoes. I had to dust off the mandolin stored in the back of my pantry and give them a whirl. However, I found out I need to upgrade to a fancier "Chef's mandolin" or other more reasonably priced mandolin to get a waffle cut, which is now on my wish list. So, after dusting it off, and figuring out how to put it together (and after slicing part of my thumb), I was able to get some of the following cuts out of my basic mandolin:

Pommes Allumettes: Potatoes cut into thin ‘matchsticks’ and fried, also known as straw potatoes. Don't cut them too thin or they'll burn.

Pommes Neuf: Thick-cut fries

Pommes Frites: Chipped potatoes

Pommes Gaufrettes: Waffle-cut potatoes

Pommes Souffles: Sliced, oval-shaped potatoes (3/16-inch thickness). The age of the potatoes is important. New potatoes have too much moisture and will not puff, and neither will old potatoes that are soft.

Tip for oil: Save a cup of old oil to add to the fresh batch of oil. The science behind this is well explained in the book How to Read a French Fry by Russ Parsons. Fresh oil doesn't allow foods to completely brown because oil and water don't mix. And since most foods are comprised of water, this water becomes a barrier between the oil and the food. During the frying process, the oil breaks down and creates a chemical compound that can penetrate through the water to get to the food. Fresh oil is not broken in, per se!

Another tip I learned the hard way: Don't fill your pot too full with oil. I thought half-way up a nice-sized stock pot would do the trick. Not so. After preparing the potatoes, and drying them off with a paper towel (sufficiently I thought), I dropped about a cup of potatoes using my dollar store spider spoon in the hot oil. "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble." Shakespeare had it right! It overflowed onto the stove (a flat-top thankfully). I turned off the heat, found the lid, moved it off the heat and was lucky all I had to do was clean up the spilled oil. Hard lesson learned. I don't need that much oil in the pot OR I need a bigger pot OR I give up doing it on my own and buy a safe deep fryer. But this cooking experiment is already adding up, so I'll save my money. I've learned my lesson (I think).


1 pound (2½ to 3 cups) baking or russet potatoes
peanut oil for frying

Peel the potatoes, and cut them into all the same size. Drop them into cold water as you cut them to prevent discoloration. This also removes some of the starch and helps to make them crisp. Drain the shapes and dry them thoroughly before immersing in hot oil.

Heat the oil to 350°F. Ensure the oil is hot or the potatoes will absorb the flavour of the oil. Immerse the potatoes in the oil for 5-6 minutes. Remove and cool for about 10 minutes or up to 2 hours. The potatoes are almost cooked but they are still pale.

Heat the oil temperature to 375°F this time. Deep-fry the potatoes until crisp and golden, 1-2 minutes. This French way of deep-frying potatoes by twice-frying gives them an extra crisp result. Do not overcrowd the fryer since the oil will cool down too much, and then you will have soggy fries.

Lift the fries out of the oil and let as much oil as possible drain away on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt before serving.

Tasting Notes

This has become a favourite in our home (now that I've promised I'll do my best not to burn the house down)! Who can resist fries, in any shape or size?

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Running total: $61.10 + $1.11 = $62.21

Butter used so far: 9 tablespoons