Friday, September 9, 2016

Want Fries With That?

I love French fries, but was always unimpressed how they turned out when baking them in the oven. I then bought an air-fryer. This little thing works great, it's like a mini-oven. It circulates high temperature air around a metal basket, simulating an oil deep-fry.  However, my French fries were still not what you could call "marketable." McDonald's would go out of business selling my fries.

Not any more!  I figured it out.

My original method involved slicing potatoes with a knife, then putting them directly into the air fryer. I did some turns out that the professional French fry makers always pre-cook their fries at a lower temperature before finishing them at a high temp. McDonald's pre-fries their fries, then freezes and ships them around the world for final cooking.

So, what I did, I sliced the potatoes into somewhat thicker fries (think Wendy's, not McD's), and boiled them for 3 minutes. Then I cooled them with cold water in a strainer.

Once cooled, I placed them in the air fryer for 10 minutes at a temp just below max. After 10 minutes, I removed the basket and shook and separated the potato sticks, turned the heat to max, and put back in for another 10 minutes.  Perfection!

Anyone else have an air-fryer?  The pre-boiling method would also work great for making these in the oven.  The trick is not to pre-cook them, just slightly cook.  Blanch. Parboil.

If you are going to get serious about this, you may want to also get a French fry cutter. I have this giant wall-mounted type that I've used for over 10 years. I also see there are many other types and styles. Uniformly sliced potatoes are an important aspect of the perfect french fry!

Spiral Fries!

And here's a batch of curly fries I made in the same way. This was the maiden voyage of my new Spiralizer. I spiralled the spuds, blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes, dripped dry, then air-fried for 15 minutes.  Served with sea salt, malt vinegar, and balsamic ketchup:



  1. Yes indeed. The frozen fries a restaurant purchases from its supplier are par-cooked. Back when I was eating french fries I would not order them if a restaurant's fries were "fresh-cut." They would generally be soggy and completely limp by the time they reached the table if the service was a bit slow. Par-cooking is absolutely required for such high-moisture foods if they are to be fried. (I cooked for 12 years in a high-end restaurant.)

    Texas Old Guy

  2. That air fryer sounds interesting! I'm going to look into it.

    Here is a similar approach, but slightly different, take on making fries by Heston Blumenthal. They are cooked three times. One time to death. He does lots and lots of experimentation in essentially a lab to get what he thinks is the perfect anything. (He is British, so his fries are "chips.")

    I've made them this way. They are amazing. I bet they'd work in an air fryer.

    If anyone is interested, he also has amazing recipes for murgh makhini and chili con carne. They take several days each.

    1. Wow, I see that "the perfect fry" is a pursuit of others, too, lol. Blumenthal's method is wild, but gives me some more good ideas. His #1 step always creates confusion:

      "Put the cut chips into a bowl under running water for 5 minutes to wash the starch off."

      People are forever asking me if soaking raw potatoes "removes the starch." Actually, this is just removing the starch on the cut surface. It does not touch the starch within the potato. Removing the surface starch is an important step in some cooking methods, allowed to remain it will form a glue when heated, sticking the potatoes together and making them harder to cook.

      Thanks for the link...some good ideas there!

  3. Way back, McDonald's patented the parboiling method. Ray Croc described it in his biography. Then in the 1990's I noticed all the fast food places suddenly had "new, improved" fries. And they were more like McDonald's fries. The patent must have expired.

  4. Tim,

    Another tip for you. When you par-cook your potatoes, put about a tablespoon of vinegar in the cooking water. This ensures that the potatoes don't fall apart and will be crispier. Why? Acid slows the breakdown of pectin.

    Here is a link for the science of it:

    1. I just tried two batches of curly fries, one with vinegar, one without. The vinegar definitely makes a difference! Thanks for the tip. I think I am going to spend the next couple hours blanching and freezing french fries, lol.

    2. Yep, no problem. It really works.

  5. Sounds like people are in need of a Potato Hack Cookbook....your next project. Did you read any of Heston Blumenthal's other recipes? I guess I'll never eat a perfect hamburger if I have to do all that!

    1. I clicked a couple..his perfect mashed potatoes are 50/50 potatoes and butter, not Potato Hack approved!

    2. During my learning to cook, I found Heston's British TV show to be fascinating. He was doing MRI scans on marinated chicken breasts! Gas chromatography to find the secret ingredients in championship chili! Endless tests and tastings to get things right. His turf-n-surf dish at his restaurant came with an iPod and earbuds so the diner could enjoy the sounds of the surf while eating.

      I'm from Texas. Certainly, every male (and probably most females at least) makes the best chili. I have for years. Heston, a Brit, has a long, involved recipe. I decided to try it. The stated prep time is 3 hours. Ha! The stated total time is 30 hours. Ha! I did the best I could.

      I served it to my wife. These are nearly her exact words: "I'm sorry. I know this was hard to make and you spent a lot of time on it. But it is probably one of the best things I've eaten. I really hope you make it again." It was fantastic, but I haven't made it since.

      I have the pleasure of having reservations at one of Heston's more modest restaurants in London. I am VERY excited.

    3. Okay, I am going to have to Google this! I am not a true Texan but my parents moved back to Houston in 1977. I also need to ask a childhood friend who lives in London if he has been to a Heston restaurant. I must say that on a rib cook-off I would lose because I love to cook my ribs where the meat is almost falling off the rib. But in competition, apparently, that's a no no.

      Too many people think chili is ground beef with kidney beans! Yuck!

    4. I'd say I would type it out, but the ingredient list alone is two pages of a normal-sized cookbook. I must've substituted for the dry ice.

      The thing I've learned for his recipes are the sub-recipes. I make a great grilled garlic chicken thanks to him. The marriage of onion, star anise, and beef is inspired, and completely unnoticed by those I cook for.

    5. My chili: hamburger, kidney beans, tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, chopped onions, chili powder.

      Sometimes we add some cocoa powder.

      Comfort food.

    6. Wilbur said: "I have the pleasure of having reservations at one of Heston's more modest restaurants in London. I am VERY excited."

      Wow! Lucky you. When are you going? Itinerary?

    7. The main reason we are going is it's our 20th anniversary. The second main reason is that there is an Egyptian artifact exhibit that will be closing soon - my wife loves museums, and my daughter loves anything Egyptian.

      It accidentally turned into a food trip for me. We've never eaten at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The first night, we eat at a 1-star Indian restaurant. Then the nose-to-tail restaurant St. John by Fergus Henderson. I love all of Yatom Ottemlenghi's cookbooks, so we are eating at his Nopi, a Mediterranean restaurant. The final night is Dinner by Heston, a restaurant that serves historic British cuisine from 14th century on

      About chili: I once ate chili at a Texas professor's house. He, of course, made the best chili. It was indeed very good. The secret ingredient was squirrel. No joke.

    8. *Ottolenghi. I think.

    9. Can you get me a to-go order?

      Lamb & Cucumber (c.1830)

      Short saddle of lamb with cucumber heart, sweetbread, borage & mint


    10. I'll try. Sweetbreads are a weakness of mine. Not to mention lamb...

    11. I went to one of Ottolenghi's restaurant in London. Upon entering the restaurant they have a take away section to choose from. We ended up doing the take away as we were staying with friends. Amazing, as well as his cookbooks. Sounds like a fabulous trip!

  6. Tim, you do like your toys!

    McDonald's also soaks their fries in sugar water. That's why they have that 'golden' look.

    1. This is the ingredients listed on McDonald's French fries:

      Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat and Milk Derivatives]*, Citric Acid [Preservative], Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Maintain Color), Salt.

  7. Alas, seems all these fancy air fryers have nasty Teflon baskets. As well, it would be interesting to do a tater taste test: cooked in stainless steel vs teflon pans [FYI: Gas chromatography trapping devices coated with Teflon...go figure ]

    1. Yeah, this is the only Teflon in my house now. I wish it was ceramic or stainless.

    2. Here here, as I had finally gotten all the PTFE out of our house, my girlfriend bought a (Philips) airfryer and suddenly there's LOTS of PTFE in our household. BTW, I honestly think the Philips airfryer is a sorry piece of engineering. The user interface is horrible, as is the rest of the design. And mind you, this is the top model (costing ± €200).

  8. Necessity and the potato hack are the mother of invention! Brilliant ideas, thanks for sharing.

    Re: parboiling, I've found that it even works for non-baking potatoes, so things like new potatoes or waxy varieties. My kids love oven baked wedges (not potato-hack friendly as I cook in duck fat typically) but the waxy varieties don't work. However, if I par boil until almost ready to eat (so longer than what you're talking about), then they can go into a hot oven, get a crispy crust on them, and be almost as perfect as the starchy ones.

  9. This is all really interesting stuff. BUT, can you make great oil free fries with baking and not frying and in an oven? All the links were to deep fat frying.

    Tim started this post with info about his air fryer. But it's got so weird to this point I don't now know if using an air fryer is even a good idea, much less whether it makes a good product.

    Can I make a great oil free fry in an oven? Do I have to buy a new device to make oil free fries? And finally, my friends who sell the air fryers tell me you need to use oil with them too. So what the heck?

    Love your blog.

    1. You can use an oven, no problem. It's just that oven racks usually have wide spacing, so it's difficult to cook directly on the rack. Using a metal drip-tray or parchment paper works to make oven coking easier. The small air fryers are purpose-made to make small batches of foods that simulate deep-fat frying. The air-fryers do not need oil added, in fact the directions on mine say specifically NOT to add any oil, but, I have seen Youtube videos where they show using spray oils to give a more even browning of the food.

      Since frying potatoes in oil is by far the most popular and tasty method, I have been trying to find ways to fry without oil and get potatoes just as good. It's not easy!

    2. New and late to the party here, so maybe you've already experimented with this, but have you tried parboiling with baking soda? Just watched an Alton Brown episode the other day on (don't judge) soft pretzels and he used baking soda to up the color and crusty exterior on his pretzels (along with an egg wash). Reminded me that I had seen something similar on America's Test Kitchen about using baking soda to degrade the surface of the potato and get that crusty exterior. Of course they were also using fat!

      Really appreciate this blog, Tim; I'm learning a lot. Found you through Nikoley. OT to Spudtember, I have some questions about digestive enzymes and food for my recovering bacteria, and would love to pick the brains of this group. You all understand so much more science than I do, and I am willing to read and learn, but often I don't know where to start! Karen

    3. Have not tried baking soda, I love Alton Brown!

      Read all you can, and ask away!

    4. Okay, I've been reading and reading, and I'm back. My gut has been through some nasty stuff in the past 2 years, and the bacteria that survived the carpet bombing are valiantly trying to make do with the small amount of fiber they receive. I would like to build up my fermentable fiber intake, and I am wondering if you or anyone else can point me to information about digestive enzyme supplements.

      I think I remember reading that you are not a big fan of supplements, and I agree that whole food is best. However, last year I tried a plant enzyme supplement and definitely felt better; I could eat a greater variety and amount of plant foods, but then I got scared off of taking it by a gastro doctor (you're going to burn out your pancreas). Since then my fiber intake has decreased and the result is not good. It would seem almost a no brainer to take the supplements for a little while, but I wanted to know if I am missing any red flags. Can you or anyone else here point to literature that a relative science illiterate can understand, so I can make a better informed decision about this?

      I am looking forward to trying PS as well, but that has to wait a few more days until I finish a round of Elixa. I'm afraid that any potential potato hacks are going to have to wait until I pull myself back from years of a SAD diet, but maybe someday I'll get to try that as well. I'm willing to learn and try a lot, but the research is exhausting me. My gut bacteria aren't the only ones ready to wave the white flag.


  10. I did these today and they turned out great. My method was: while I was peeling the potatoes, I had water in a pot boiling. Once the potatoes were cut and ready, I poured the boiling water over them, covered and let them sit in it 5 minutes. Then dumped the hot water and refilled with ice water. I had stuff to do so it was 3 hours or more later that I dumped the water and roasted them in the 400F oven with the fan on. They came out perfect. Everyone got seconds. Thanks Tim.

  11. Thanks for the tips, Tim and all. I've been experimenting with a cheaper option I came across in a drug store--the Copper Crisper, which is a nonstick (likely copper-infused enamel) basket on a tray that you put in the oven. My initial results were poor, but the following worked reasonably well for me. Still not as tasty as fried potatoes or my current fave of the oil-free potato waffles, but not bad.

    Oil-Free Baked Copper Crisper Fries

    2 large baking potatoes, such as Russett (about 1 1/2 pounds)
    1 large egg white
    ~1/4 teaspoon salt
    ~1/8 teaspoon black pepper

    Slice potatoes into french fry strips (cooking time will vary based on size and thickness)
    Boil them for 3 minutes.
    Cool with cold water and strain.
    In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg white until light and foamy.
    Add the spices to the egg whites and blend.
    Add the potato strips and coat them with the mixture. Strain off excess mixture.
    Place the potato strips on the Copper Crisper and put into the oven to bake for 10 minutes at 375°F.
    After 10 minutes, turn the heat up to 400°F and cook for another ~20 minutes.

    No need to turn the fries with the Copper Crisper.

  12. Thanks for the amazing tip on how to prepare delicious french fries like MC`Donalds ones!!