How to Cook Perfect French Fries in a Busy Kitchen by Sara Mariani

How to Cook Perfect French Fries in a Busy Kitchen

Walk into any hotel or restaurant kitchen, and you may find piles of par-cooked, chipped potatoes in baking trays under the multi-tub deep fryers. They will have half-cooked them during the early morning shift, with a view to completing the process later for orders. Contrary to what you may think, they are not being lazy. French fries actually cook better that way.

The Deep Technology Begin Perfect Fries

Great fries come from solid, high-density potatoes. If you have soft potatoes, mash them, or the cooking oil will soak through. Some suppliers may be tempted to send whatever is in season. This is yet another reason to peel fresh potatoes and put them through a slicer yourself. Then you are off to a good start. On the subject of the cooking oil, recycle it every day and fry nothing in it but chips.

Make sure the oil is heated to the correct temperature for the chip thickness. As a rule of thumb, this is 160ºC / 325ºF for french fries, or 190ºC / 375ºF for shoestring ones. You want the oil to whack the product with high heat right away. Add smaller amounts of product to ensure hydrogen bonding dehydrates the surface properly, and seals the softness inside.

A Short Journey into the Wonderful World of Pectin

Pectin comes from primary plant cell walls, and provides their structural strength. It is a popular gelling agent, and also used in desert fillings and sweets. Although it has no food value, pectin makes for great crispy fries because without it you get sloppy chips. Denser potatoes have a higher pectin concentration, which makes them harder and firmer.

This characteristic passes over to the perfect french fries I am writing about here. Their cell walls are nice and firm, and they achieve the surface crunchiness we are after. If you must buy chipped potatoes, ask the supplier whether they are high, medium, or low pectin. If they say they do not know, you probably have your answer.

A Word or Two about Blanching Theory

Blanching raw chips in simmering water is essential if you plan on leaving them uncooked on the counter until you need them. Because blanching them destroys the enzymes that will otherwise turn them purpley-brown on contact with the air. However, there is more to it than that:

  • You can infuse flavour into the chips by adding salt to the blanching water. Try vinegar sometime to add more zest.
  • You can leech out some of the sugar into the blanching water too. This will make your chips golden, not brown
  • Blanched potatoes form a crust sooner. You can cook them faster in hotter oil because their starch has gelatinized.

However, there is a limit to how long you can blanch a batch of chipped potatoes, because you are basically boiling their goodness away. Around fourteen minutes is enough, but do experiment because not all chip fryers are as reliable as ours. Never use blanching water twice because you could return the sugar to the product.

Towards Making the Perfect French Fry

Some chefs believe they can cook the product through after blanching, and air-drying. This works perfectly in a small restaurant where you can molly coddle the product in small batches so the oil stays super-hot. In my experience though, you really ought to fry them twice when working in a big kitchen.

You will discover fries have an extra edge that way. They are firmer and crisper on the outside, softer inside, and you can deliver individual orders faster too.

The Extreme French Method: Dry, Freeze, Refry

I say extreme because I believe this over the top, although I may use the method at home to spoil you know who.

  • Peel and slice the potatoes one at a time and store under water to prevent oxidation and browning
  • Blanche the chipped potatoes in simmering, salty water until they are cooked through. Then air dry them in the convection oven.
  • Fry them in oil at 170ºC / 340ºF until they form a crust, but before they start changing colour.
  • Shake the oil off the fries, let them cool, and then freeze them. This dehydrates the surface of the product.
  • When you feel like great chips, drop them carefully into oil at 170ºC / 340ºF until done the way you like.

Double frying chips this way is arguably the ultimate recipe, although this is far too time-consuming for a busy, professional kitchen. I will close with the method I used, when I was seafood and french fries chef in a busy hotel that was talk of Cape Town. I never had a single order come back. That to my way of thinking is case closed, proof delivered in style.

The Ultimate Way to Blanch, Pre-Fry and Re-Fry Golden Chips

The night staff had already completed the blanching and pre-frying routine, and changed the oil by the time I came on duty in the á la carte kitchen at eight in the morning.  We took it in turns to prepare meals for our private chefs’ table at the back of the kitchen, and believe me they were arguably the best breakfast in town. After that, it was off the work

I had three heavy-duty electric fryers at my disposal. We used 15 litre / 4 gallon ones, to make sure the oil heated fast. One was kept just below the point where the oil began to smoke, while the second was ticking over on medium-high heat ready for seafood orders. The third was a spare, so we had a just-in-case option for all events. While I waited for first orders, I skimmed the oil for the tiniest particles that might make it bitter, and fileted fish.

We served plenty of fish and chips in that hotel. Sometimes I was so busy I only had time to throw coarse salt on the floor to absorb the oil splashes. When I heard the orders called out, I turned the first fryer on high to time the chips to perfection with the rest of the serving.

Then I handed them to the plating chef - sometimes with fish - to present the food and place it in the hot pass for waiters to collect. We always shared one hot chip between us. He was an elderly gentleman in the French tradition. His response was always the same, très bon, merci chef. I will leave it there his standards were high.

With a wide variety of fryers from dean, austheat, frymaster and more, check out the latest range from Illawarra Catering Equipment website at or if your looking for repairs on your old one contact us on 02 4228 0100.

Image: French Fries BY CC 2.0


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