September 07, 2004
Most people don't bother making french fries from scratch at home. Even Nigel Slater, one of my favorite cooks, notes that home frying requires a bit of culinary heroism - especially if you mean to use the crisp, salty, guiltily delicious proceeds in that most british of post-pub delicacies, the chip butty - a startlingly Atkins unfriendly sandwich of mayonnaise, crisp bread, and "chips".
People's reluctance to make fries in this frozen peanut-butter sandwich world of ours doesn't shock me. Who has the time to cook potatoes once in cooler oil to soften them, to remove them all from the oil and to dry them lovingly, and then to expose them again to a now fiery oil to brown and to crisp? Even I can't manage it very often, and I'm obsessed. So how is someone of more sensible appetites to feel, trained by well meaning restaurants to think that fries are a fast food? Who, exactly, is going to make the effort?
That's why I've spent much time thinking about alternatives to canonically double fried fries. Of course, I've mentioned my oven fries before - a potato cut into thirds and baked at high heat in smoking olive oil for an hour. And I've been known to pretend that properly baked potatoes are their fattier cousins on occasion - It's amazing what enough mayonnaise can do. But in the end, only french fries are french fries, and until recently, only the double frying method has done the job.
But just a few days ago, Will reminded me of a particularly tempting tidbit in Jonathan Steingarten's great book, "The Man who Ate Everything". In one chapter, the former lawyer notes that a world class French chef of his acquaintance fries his frites only once, but in cold oil - the extra time the fat takes to come to a boil, presumably, is meant to replicate the first cooler fry of the traditional method. Trying the trick out had long been at the back of my mind, and with a spare week at my parent's house and an outdoor grill and burner at my disposal, I was able to have a real go.
In a way, I'm glad to report that I think the method does work. Especially if you've put the oil in the refrigerator beforehand, you do get brown, crisp, tasty fries, eminently slatherable in coarse salt and strong sauce. There's no drying, or guessing how hot the second fry should be - you just leave the potatoes in the oil, and some twenty minutes later, they'll be done and ready to eat.
But the savings in time, and hassle, and effort, aren't really that material, because the cold oil takes much longer to do the job from tip to tail. So I'm left a little conflicted about Steingarten's advice, about whether it's worth bothering, and about whether this is the answer I've been looking for. In the end, I suppose that whether you adopt one method or the other is a matter of preference, of deciding what kind of work you prefer. I, for one, don't mind the double fry, and I think in the future I'll stick to that.
As for the holy grail of the easy, tasty, french fry, I think I solved the problem as I nibbled absently on one of those small misshapen fries you inevitably get in a large batch. Maybe, in the end, french fries are the kind of things you have to make with friends and family, amicably hunched over the bubbling pot, dish of salt at hand, hungry, and enthusiastic. Maybe like risotto, they're meant to be the food of lazy afternoons, to be done well rather than quickly. And when the need for a quick batch of fries does strike, on a Friday night stagger home, there's always the local McDonald's to provide succor, and to keep you from perverting your own fryer at home. After all, a good cook doesn't always stand on principle - not when sacrilege is so tasty.
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I don't need to talk in class; I know how to do this.
From Schuck's Torts:
Theories of liability don't spring from the brow of Zeus.
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It's about time I posted one of these, but let me note in advance that it applies only to me, and not to any of my co-bloggers, who may or may not have their own articulated or unarticulated policies about blog-related email.
Unless you explicitly tell me otherwise, email sent about the blog (or topics recently mentioned on the blog) will be considered fair game to be republished here on this (not for profit) blog. This will usually, but not always, be anonymous; If you have strong feelings about this, be sure to express a preference.
I will try to post a few of the more interesting, salient, funny, or correct pieces of mail that I've gotten each week.
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Notable quotes from the first day of Law School:
From Richard Brooks's Contracts class:
"This class is really about love."
"Oh, you guys don't have to write any of this down." [Class laughs nervously]
"Wait. Is this your first class of law school? Let's step back a bit-- Where does law come from?"
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