Here are two recipes for frying potatoes: one that takes a bit of planning and a fairly large jug of oil (but far less mess than you might think), and another you can make easily on a weeknight while the chicken roasts and the broccoli steams. For the fries, using a Russet potato is imperative, since this variety’s starch is easily soaked away in a water bath to yield a supremely crispy fry. For the skillet chips, however, any potato will do—waxy, floury, new, and even those old wrinkly ones with sprouting eyes from the bottom of your bin; just be sure to trim any green parts away before cooking. They’re so easy and so good, though, you may find you make them often enough you don’t have “old” potatoes any longer!
Serves 6–8 as a side dish
4-6 large Russet potatoes; well scrubbed
1 litre bottle neutral oil, like safflower or sunflower or grapeseed
Kosher or sea salt
Peel the potatoes, or not; this is a personal preference! Cut them lengthwise into ½-inch slabs, then cut again into fries, transferring to a bowl of cold salted water as you go. Swish the cut fries around in the water and let soak for at least 30 minutes or up to a few hours in the fridge.
In a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil to 325°F over a medium flame (if you do not have a candy thermometer, you can just heat the oil over medium until a small cube of bread sizzles when dropped in; you’ll raise the heat for the second frying).
Drain the fries in a colander and shake to remove excess water, then dump onto a kitchen towel and pat them until very dry. Set up two baking sheets lined with paper towels nearby, and grab a wide, long-handled strainer (often called a “spider”) or slotted spoon.
Add the fries to the oil, 1-2 handfuls at a time, allowing enough room for them to swim freely in the pot. Cook until tender, 10-15 minutes, then remove from the oil to one towel-lined tray. Repeat with the remaining fries until all are cooked; set aside.
When the rest of your dinner is ready, raise the heat of the oil to 375°F (or just increase the flame) and add the fries by the handful to crisp and brown them, about 2 minutes per batch. Remove to the second towel-lined tray and season immediately with plenty of salt and repeat until all the fries have been cooked a second time. Serve as soon as the last batch is cooked.
A note about oil:
Allow the oil to cool in the pot, then strain it into a jar (or better yet, back into the bottle it came in). Refrigerate until you need it again; you can use this oil four or five times over for more fries, or use it to cook beer battered fish or seafood, onion rings, or tempura vegetables. A good Italian fritto misto (“mixed fried things”) of shrimp, calamari, lemon slices, whole herbs, mushrooms, and other veggies can make for a fun and vibrant wintertime dinner party; gather your guests in the kitchen and serve piles of fried things as soon as they come out of the oil, seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, lemon, spicy mayonnaise, hot sauce, a ginger-soy dressing, plenty of cold beer and white wine, and a roll of paper towels. You’ll never miss the dining room!
This story appeared in the Winter 2015 issue.
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, soccer mom, Italophile and managing editor at Edible Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.