And with that, I present to you, the First Annual* French Fry Face Off.
In this corner, in the white flower bowl, the challenger, Instructable's Crispy Oven Baked French Fries.
The challenger was a recipe that caught my eye because it specifically set out to solve the issue of crispy french fries out of the oven. It calls for steaming the potatoes in the microwave, followed by tossing them in a mix of cornstarch and oil, before baking.
I tried this last week, and it failed miserably- both Katie and I could taste the cornstarch on the fries. But I liked the idea of steaming the potatoes before roasting them, so for this challenge, I ditched the cornstarch but kept the microwave steam bath.
And in this corner, in the blue bowl, coming all the way from the great state of Vermont and America's Test Kitchen (via Smells Like Home), the heavyweight champion of the world, Baked Oven Fries!
I'm a huge fan of America's Test Kitchen. These guys test all kinds of variables in every recipe they produce, and I was sure these would be good. Plus, this recipe came from their cookbook The New Best Recipe. The recipe calls for soaking the potatoes in hot water for 10-20 minutes, and then steaming them in the oven (by covering the pan with tin foil), before removing the foil and roasting.
And there's the bell!
I started out with two (mostly) identical potatoes, and chopped them into thin french fries. Then I put one batch to soak with hot water, put the other in the microwave, and prepped the pans.
After five minutes, I removed the foil cover, and back to the oven.
And finally, we're done.
Into the bowls for the judging!
I suveyed the audience**, and hear are some excerpts from what they said:
(Note- I didn't tell them which anything about the technique or recipe until after the tasting)
- These are crispy on the outside and softer on the inside
- Definitely chewier on the inside
- These are overcooked, that's why they're so crispy
- These have a better crust
- These are really good.. almost like they're salted on the inside
- Definitely a better crust on these
Winner, and still heavyweight champion of the world .. the Blue bowl (aka America's Test Kitchen)!
After the winner was announced, Steamed could be heard shouting "Give me another chance.. they overcooked me .. i cook faster because I partially cook in the microwave!"
Want to do a taste test at home? The full recipes are linked above, but here's the quick and dirty approach:
- Preheat the oven to 475. Do that now- it takes awhile.
- Wash and dry the potatoes (I never bother to peel them), and chop them thin.
- With one batch (batch A), soak them in hot water for 10-20 minutes.
- With the other (batch B), put them in a bowl, cover it with a plate, and nuke the whole thing for 4 minutes.
- When they're ready, drain the hot water from batch A and dry on paper towels.Do the same for batch B, but watch out for the steam when you lift the plate.
- Put some oil (I used 1 TBL for each batch) on the pans, and sprinkle with kosher salt.
- Toss the fries with another 1 TBL oil (each), and arrange on the pans
- Cover batch A's pan with tin foil (you want a tight seal, if possible), and put both pans in the oven
- After five minutes, remove the foil from batch A (again, watch out for the steam), and return to the oven.
- After a total cook time of 15 minutes, flip the fries, and swap them on the racks (ie, put the one that was on the bottom shelf on top, and vice versa).
- After another 15 minutes, check on the fries- they should be crispy. They may be done, or they may need another 5-10 minutes.
- When they're done, serve (although some recipes say to blot the oil and add more salt .. I don't bother with either step).
Want to know way to much about the differences in potato varieties at the chemical level? Check out this post on from America's Test Kitchen. I was hoping for an easy to remember payoff, such as use variety XXX for french fries, but instead, all they gave was the rather general...
And what does this all mean? Because each type of potato has a different ratio of starch to moisture and a different ratio of amylose to amylopectin, and each behaves in different ways when exposed to water and heat, it’s important to pay attention to what kind of potato you choose for different recipe.
** By 'audience', I mean Katie, with the more critical comments from me.