Steak-frittes was something that I grew to detest, as it was the low rent district of French cuisine--as common as a burger cooked on a flat-top in an American diner. I spent the unfortunate week on the Cote d'Atlantique stuck in a seaside hotel during a five-day deluge, with a room on the court just above the kitchen where pretty much all they cooked was steak-frittes. I couldn't stand the smell of a deep fryer and "frittes" for decades after that. But of course, life goes on, things change... I learned to be a fairly good cook, and eventually learned to deep-fry, although I tend to reserve deep-frying for special occasions (I'm into heart-healthy eating). If I learned to make "french fries", I was determined to learn the best way to make them--crispy, not greasy, using a heart-healthy fat like canola oil. I've also been a long-time fan of home-made potato chips when served in a restaurant or a great roadside fast food stand. This was another goal when learning to deep fry...
Over the course of the last couple of years, I have learned to make both rustic style potato fries and potato chips. In Italian, "French fries" translates as patate fritte (literally, fried potatoes). "Potato chips" can translate rather technically as patate fritte a sfoglia (literally, fried puff pastry potatoes), or chips di patate. In reality, you can just call them "chips" with an Italian accent (pronounced "keeps").
So first, I thought I would share with you how to make my fantastic, twice-fried Patate Fritte Rustica (modeled after the "Famine Fries" I've enjoyed at Celtic festivals... Ok, so call me a universal kind of guy).
(Makes about 4-6 servings)
3 large Idaho style baking potatoes, washed & dried, with the skin on
1 gallon of canola oil for frying
Your choice (to taste) of:
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper
Old Bay brand spice
for an authentic, New England flavor, sprinkle a bit of malt vinegar & salt
Italian spice mixture (sea salt, dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper flakes)
You may use either an electric deep fryer or a large stock pot to fry your potatoes. If using an electric fryer, follow instructions and be careful not to overfill higher than the oil level lines inside the fryer). If you use a stock pot, you only need to fill with oil to a dept of about 2-3" to safely fry your potatoes.
Be VERY careful with hot oil! Never overload your oil with potatoes, and NEVER add wet potatoes or you might have spatter and a boil-over!
- This is a twice-fried method, where you first blanch the potatoes until blond in color at a lower temperature, set them aside to drain and cool down, and then fry a second time at a higher temperature until golden brown and crisp.
- Heat the oil to a temperature of 350F. If using a stock pot, monitor the temperature with either a submersible, clip-on instant read thermometer or a laser thermometer.
- While the oil is heating, cut your potatoes lengthwise into long, wedge shaped slices.
- Drop the potato slices into a large bowl full of cold water, swirling them around to rinse off their excess starch. Do this about three times, replacing with fresh water each time.
- Lay your potatoes out on paper towels or a cotton kitchen towel and pat dry. Let rest 15 minutes before frying.
- Prepare a baking tray lined with paper towels or brown paper for draining your potatoes after cooking.
- First, you will blanch your potatoes in the oil at 350F. Work in small batches of 6-8 wedges to prevent your oil from cooling down too much.
- If you are using an electric fryer, place your potato slices in the fry basket and lower slowly into the hot oil. Lower slowly to prevent too much bubbling. If using a stock pot, you can slowly place each potato slice into the fryer by hand gently (do NOT drop them) or use a tool called a "spider" (bamboo handle with a metal basket attached) to both place them into the oil and to remove them when done.
- Blanching slowly cooks the potato wedges through to the center... cook until a blong color, about 5-7 minutes per batch. You might have to pause between batches to let your oil come back up to temperature--monitoring temperature will help you cook properly without getting greasy results.
- Remove the potatoes with your basket or spider,drain off the excess oil, then place them on your paper-covered tray to drain and rest.
- Repeat until all the potatoes have been blanched.
- Next, increase the temperature of the oil to 375F.
- Fry the blanched slices of potatoes in the hotter oil for 3-5 minutes... pull them out, drain excess oil and place on the baking tray when they've reached a nice, golden/brown color. (You might want to replace the paper towels in case they got too saturated with oil after the blanching.)
- Pause and make sure your heat is back up to 380F, then fry the rest of your potatoes in batches.
- When done, toss with your preferred spice mix and serve immediately.
The potato is a recent addition to the European cuisine, ever since the Spaniards brought back potatoes from the New World in the 15oos. They are grown and eaten all over Europe and the rest of the world today, with Italy both growing and consuming about 20% less than the United States. It's a wonder that potatoes are grown in the Mediterranean climate of Italy since they were originally brought back from the high altitude of the Andes. It's even more amazing that most of Italy's production of potatoes takes place in the southern part of the country--Campania, Sicily and Puglia. A more interesting fact is that the potato is Italy's second largest crop, right behind the tomato.
(Makes about 4-6 servings)
3 large Idaho style baking potatoes, washed and dried, with the skin on.
1 gallon of canola oil for frying
You have the same options for spicing your chips as in the recipe for Patate Fritte Rustica above. Use either a large stock pot or electric deep fryer for frying your chips. You will also need a mandoline for thinly slicing your potato chips. (Caution when using a mandoline!)
- Slice 3/4" off one end of each potato. Using a good quality mandolin, slice your potatoes starting on the cut end--the slices should be about 1/16" thick.
- After your potatoes are sliced, place the slices into a large bowl of cool water to wash off excess starch. Change the water several times until the water looks fairly clear again.
- Lay out sheets of paper towels onto 2 half sheet baking pans and then lay out your potato slices to drain. After 15 minutes or so, pat them dry and rearrange so you can pat off even more water. You want your slices as dry as possible as they go into the hot oil.
- Meanwhile, heat your oil to a temperature of 360 F. If your oil is lower than that, your chips will be greasier. If the temperature is hotter (say around 375 or above), your potatoes will cook faster but they will also be much darker in color. You might prefer this darker style (like "dark kettle chips").
- Fry your chips in small batches, using a "spider" (if using a stock pot to fry), gently moving your chips around for a few seconds to prevent them from sticking together. After they are golden brown, drain the chips (using either the electric fryer's basket or the "spider") and then place on a tray lined with several layers of paper towels to drain further. Try to keep them separated as they drain.
- After frying each batch, you might have to wait a bit to let the temperature rise again. Use an clip-on instant read or laser thermometer to monitor the temperature between batches.
- Repeat until all the potatoes are fried.
- You can toss your chips in a large bowl with your preferred spices.
Here's a couple of tips:
- I prefer the more robust, sweet taste of Idaho style baking potatoes, especially if they have been in your pantry for a few weeks after purchase--the taste will be sweeter.
- You can save your fry oil and re-use up to 3 times before the oil starts to break down and loses its "smoke temperature". Just filter the oil after it has cooled down and place back into its original container. Mark an "X" for each use on the container.
- Both recipes are best if served immediately--admittedly a difficult task of timing when serving as part of a larger meal. For this reason, practice on your own family for use as snacks until you get a feel for how to time frying with other parts of a larger menu, like during a large holiday barbecue.
Ciao e buon appetito!