French Fries – Cold Oil Method

There are certain cooking techniques with which I am not very familiar.  Deep frying is one of them.  Part of this is because all I have is a small condo kitchen.  There is not a nice outdoor kitchen for “heavy duty” cooking, the type that imparts a lingering smell in your furniture, carpets and draperies.  Lack of familiarity doesn’t quiet my curiosity, though.  In fact, it heightens it.

That is why, when Cook’s Illustrated published a recipe for “Easier French Fries” using a cold oil method in the July/August 2009 issue, I was intrigued and eager to try it.

Conventional wisdom holds that to make good french fries you need to rinse the cut potatoes to remove excesses starch and then fry them twice, once at a lower temperature to cook the potatoes and a second, more brief dousing in the oil to form a crisp crust.

That is a lot of work.  Frankly, I’ll just walk down to McDonald’s instead of going through that much work.  As the author of the CI article explained it, they broke with conventional wisdom and achieved exceptional results along with a few added benefits.

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Their first break with tradition was to abandon the Russet potato, which they found to be too dry and starchy for this single-fry method.  They chose instead the Yukon Gold, which is waxier in texture.  Our local markets don’t identify the different potato types by name but I picked up some that looked like Yukons.  Squaring the sides, I cut them into batons about 3/8″ wide.  No peeling beforehand and no rinsing after.

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Next, place the potatoes in a Dutch oven or other heavy, deep pan along with the oil.  Peanut oil was recommended but as that wasn’t readily available here, I used canola oil.  I also added a few tablespoons of duck fat left over from a previous cooking project.  A little duck fat or bacon fat will add more flavor to the fries.  How do I know this?  Because they add flavor to anything!

This cold oil method is attributed to a recipe from Jeffrey Steingarten, a food write whose approach to food (and life) and style of writing appeals to me.  It was attributed to the method of Michelin-starred chef Joel Robuchon.

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This is where the process really breaks all the rules.  You put the pan on the stove top and turn the heat to high until the oil is boiling.  During this time you do not stir the fries at all.  After the boiling starts you continue to cook for about fifteen minutes or until the potatoes are limp but the exteriors are starting to firm up.

It is only at this point that you start to stir the fries, gently unsticking any that have caught on the bottom of the pan or each other.  After the fries are golden and crisp you can pull them out and drain them on paper towels, paper bags, newspapers, or whatever else is handy.

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The resulting fries were very tasty, if just a little overcooked.  But who is going to complain when you have freshly made french fries sitting in front of you?

I mentioned that the author of this method discovered a few unexpected benefits.  Not only does this cold oil method result in a lot less splatter and, subsequently, a lot less “fried food” smell inundating your house, it also results in fries that absorb a lot less fat.  Based on some scientific analysis, the CI lab found that fries cooked by the cold oil method contained about one-third less fat than the conventional twice-fried method: 13% versus 20%.  When I went to pour the oil back into the bottle, I was surprised to discover that it refilled the bottle nearly to the top.  Only a few tablespoons had been lost in the entire process!

Now, I don’t know that I’ll be making french fries again anytime soon.  But I’m glad I gave them a try.


28 thoughts on “French Fries – Cold Oil Method

  1. WOW, hahahaha… you did this too!I actually read the same article, and I replicated this a few weeks ago just to try it out. Amazing isn’t it? I would have thought the fries would be soaked through, since that’s what usually happens with low fry temps. I don’t think I’d use this method though, unless I was specifically making french fries and nothing else. The other thing also is, you can only make one batch with this, and then what?It was interesting though, for sure, right?

  2. Hum, just the opposite of what I was taught about frying. “If the oil is hot the food absorbs less of the fat.” I’ll have to give this a try.

  3. @chow@ireallylikefood – I made two, about an hour apart, and each turned out pretty good.  The oil had cooled sufficiently to give it something similar to a cold start.@stebow – That rule is true for most items but doesn’t seem to be the case for these spuds.@osmundaregalis – Baked fries are certainly a lot less hassle, aren’t they?@Dezinerdreams – And tastes tasty, too.@icapillas – Oh, that sounds good.  I didn’t consider that.

  4. Yeah I thought if the oil’s hot the food absorbs less oil?!For the batch thing… Is there a limit to how much you can put in??? If you want to make a bigger batch with the same amount of oil… Hmmm…

  5. huh, that’s an interesting way to cook fries. i’ve never done it and probably never will, but it is nice to know that there are alternative methods that don’t make the fries so greasy.

  6. Wow, that’s interesting. I’ve never tried to fry anything. Using the hot oil scares me because it seems like it could get out of hand pretty quickly. Our kitchen is a super small galley kitchen so we tend to stay away from doing any really heavy cooking as well as it becomes a real hassle to try to get the smell out afterwards. The cold oil method seems a bit more user friendly.

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  8. @yang1815 – The recipe was about 5-6 medium sized potatoes and six cups of oil.  If you over-crowd, they will just stick together.  You could theoretically add more oil and more potatoes, but there would seem to be a limit after which the oil can’t heat up quickly enough.go to In-and-Out burger!@CurryPuffy – That would be a tasty combo of flavors.@TheCheshireGrins – It is.  My kitchen is also quite small but it is amazing what you can turn out in a small kitchen.@kunhuo42 – One of those pieces of info to file away in the back of your head, ready to spring out during some dinner party.@dikdoktor – Mom = guinea pig?@jassmine – See?  You were cutting edge all along!

  9. I wonder if the same frying method could be applied to other foods… I would love to do fried chicken. Probably not shrimp tempura though. Crab cakes?!

  10. @yang1815 –  Fantastic question, Andy. I don’t know. If I had to hazard a guess, I would think that maybe it either slows down the process of the oil heating up or increases the absorption of oil. Can’t come up with a rational reason why either would be the case, but that’s my best guess. As for using this technique for other types of deep frying, I doubt it would work as well. I think the potato’s structure and composition may be unique in this case. As evidence of that, I submit that the recipe author found that the Russet potato, the one you would usually use for fries, turned out too tough with this manner of cooking. A less starchy variety, Yukon Golds, had to be used instead.

  11. FYI, your current format is trouble-free for me to open up the page, see the pictures and even adding my comment.  I couldn’t open up your past few entries with photos except the cube box marked (x) and the attachment number!Pleased to open this site and enjoy your new cooking method for the fries. I am an oil-free cook and when I have my moments for fries, I buy a small pack of frozen fries; thawed and cooked them in my small , portable electric oven. My Condo-kitchen is spared of the ‘heavy,after-cooking oil effect’ The fries are crispy and tasty too.

  12. @christao408 – You know, there is a frying technique in Chinese cooking that is kind of similar… I remember that when we fry egg rolls, we first use hot oil, put the egg rolls in, and then we dump cold oil in it to cool it down and fry it til it sizzles again.I would imagine the reason behind that is so the temperature is better controlled and you don’t overcook the outside without thoroughly cooking the inside. But still scratching my head with the “Do not disturb” thing haha… I tried searching a little on Google but no luck. I’ll let you know if I find anything though. Very curious.

  13. I am all about the drive to McDonalds. 😛 If I’m making fries at home, I’d only make sweet potato ones. Do you think this method would work with sweet potatoes?

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