French fries are, without exaggeration, one of the most perfect foods on the planet. There’s a reason so many of our favorite fast food joints ask if we’d “like fries with that.” But it turns out, you don’t need their giant vats of oil to recreate the same ratio of crispy outer layer, soft and fluffy insides, and just the right amount of salt in your own kitchen. In fact, you can skip the frying process altogether for a batch of oven fries you’d swear could have come from a drive-thru (but are actually even better).
According to Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen, “The secret to great French fries is to cook them twice.” She picked this tip up from food writer Jeffrey Steingarten’s book, The Man Who Ate Everything ($16.95, Amazon), in what she calls “one of my favorite French fry essays of all time.”
Perelman elaborates, “When cooked twice, the first at a lower temperature to gently warm and tenderize the potato, and the second at a higher temperature to seal and crisp the edges, you get the French fries I dream about.” I have also been known to dream about potatoes in all their glorious forms, so I knew I had to test out her recipe.
After slicing potatoes into fry-like shapes, the recipe calls for throwing them into a pot and adding enough water to cover about an inch above the potatoes. Then let that come up to a simmer on high for about 10 minutes (it shouldn’t come to a boil, but just lower the temperature if it does). Perelman suggests taking a bite out of one to check if it is a “very ‘al dente’ potato — one that is too firm to eat enjoyably, but has no crunch left.” Mine took a few extra minutes to get there, but once they reached that texture, I drained them in a colander.
As they drip-dried for a bit, I added a few tablespoons of olive oil onto my sheet pan and set it in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about three minutes to get it nice and hot. I then very carefully laid my soggy spuds out on the pan, sprinkled them with salt, drizzled about a tablespoon’s worth of more oil, and popped them in the oven for 20 minutes. Perelman recommends giving them a toss at that point to make sure all the sides get a chance to crisp up, then put them back in the oven for 5 minute intervals until they are “deeply golden.” Like her, it only took two rounds of that process (a total of 30 minutes cooking time) for my oven fries to look done.
You’ll have to believe me when I tell you they indeed had the crispy-to-fluffy ratio we all hope for in a fry. (My roommate and I gobbled them up too quickly for me to think about taking another snap of their soft interior.) I like that this technique uses just about four tablespoons of oil rather than massive amounts for deep frying. It not only lowers the fat levels of this “guilty pleasure” snack, but also makes things so much less messy.
The method reminds me of Emily Blunt’s English roasted potatoes, so I can’t say I was too surprised by the delicious result. You really can’t go wrong while experimenting with potatoes, though. I’m already brainstorming different ways to spice these spuds up with some seasoning from my cabinet or with my newfound go-to potato-flavor-booster, onion soup mix.
Give this recipe a try and you’ll never have to wait on a drive-thru to provide you with scrumptious starchy goodness again!
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