Hello, Mr. Chips 

The fine art of making perfect French fries.

click to enlarge THE FRIES HAVE IT: Get that crisp crust exterior and a soft and fluffy center using Heston Blumenthal’s French fry technique. - JON PALMER CLARIDGE
  • Jon Palmer Claridge
  • THE FRIES HAVE IT: Get that crisp crust exterior and a soft and fluffy center using Heston Blumenthal’s French fry technique.

Unless you’re a super foodie, the name Heston Blumenthal probably doesn’t mean anything to you. But if your world includes that particularly obsessive intersection where food and science collide, formerly called “molecular gastronomy,” but now referred to as “modernist cuisine,” then Heston Blumenthal is a demi-god.

As the impossibly inventive chef/owner of The Fat Duck in Bray (a London suburb), Chef Blumenthal has long been recognized as one of the world’s greatest cooks, and The Fat Duck remains near the top of Restaurant Magazine’s list of the world’s best eateries. The chef’s newest restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, which reworks historical British recipes from as far back as the 14th century, debuted at number nine on the magazine's list this April.

It was there, on my recent European gastronomy tour, that I encountered his “triple-cooked chips.” Regular readers of my restaurant column know that I’ve been disappointed on many occasions in recent weeks that so many full service restaurants lack proper French fry technique. But Heston elevates cooking fries to a science, literally.

You see, Heston became obsessed with what the Brits call “chips” around 1992, before he had even opened the Fat Duck; indeed, this is the first recipe that he claims as his own. Achieving the crisp, almost glass-like crust with a soft, fluffy center depends on getting rid of moisture from the potato and creating little cracks in the surface where the oil collects and hardens, making it crunchy. In this dogged quest, he tried oven-drying (which makes the fries too hard), pin-pricking (too impractical), and microwaving (too inconsistent).

Ultimately, he discovered that placing the spuds in the freezer not only makes the tender fries easier to handle, but more importantly, the frigid environment draws moisture from the potatoes that enables the creation of a perfect golden crust. The chef prefers Maris Piper or Arran Victory potato varieties since they possess the perfect dry-matter content, but unless you’ve got access to a secret spud pusher, Russets will suffice.

French fries

Makes six servings

Ingredients

2 pounds Russet potatoes

Peanut or grapeseed oil

Kosher or sea salt

Digital thermometer

Directions

Peel the potatoes and cut them into fat, stubby fries (approx. ½ inch x ½ inch x 2.5 inches). Discard any irregular cuts (or save them for soup) since they’ll cook unevenly.

Place the cut fries into a bowl under running water for 5 minutes to rinse off some of the starch. Place 9 cups cold water in a large saucepan and add the potatoes. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat and simmer until the fries are almost falling apart (approximately 20 minutes, depending on the potato). Do not be tempted to cook them any less, as the closer they are to falling apart, the better the final texture.

Carefully remove the cooked fries and transfer them to a wire rack; make sure to leave space around each fry so the moisture can escape. Place the full rack in the freezer for at least 1 hour for the chips to dry out and firm up.

Heat a deep-fat fryer or a deep pan no more than half filled with oil (to a depth of around 4 inches) to 265°F. Fry the potatoes in small batches until a very pale crust forms (approximately 5 minutes), remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Put the potatoes back on the wire rack and place in the freezer for at least 1 hour. At this stage, if you don’t want to cook and serve immediately, the potatoes can be kept in the fridge for 3 days.

Heat the oil in the deep-fat fryer or deep pan to 355°F and fry the potatoes until golden (approximately 7 minutes). Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt.

Note to full-service restaurants with access to sous-vide vacuum equipment who wish to produce perfect fries: Instead of using the freezer to dehydrate the potatoes, transfer the “chips” to a wire rack (step 4) and sous-vide at full pressure. Repeat the vacuum process three times, at which point the potatoes will be cool and feel slightly dry. Continue with Step 5. Repeat the sous-vide process again as above (in place of the freezer in step 6), then refrigerate in an airtight container with packets of silica until needed.

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