Too Many Cooks: The Perfect French Fry

May  9, 2014

You'll be hearing from the staff at Food52 in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.  

We're finally nearing grilling season, which means burger nights -- which means fries. Lots and lots of fries. It's a reason to get out of bed in the morning, to push through Fridays, to even invest in a French fry cutter. The thing is, there is so much more to fries than what meets the eye. There are meaty steak fries dipped in cold ketchup, crispy shoestring fries dipped in garlicky mayo, and everything in between. So, because we love fries, because we can't possibly imagine life without fries, we've asked our team: 

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What is your platonic ideal of the perfect French fry? 

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Karl: Thick-cut, salty sweet potato fries that are crispy on the outside, tender inside, and served with spicy mayo! 

Erin: Crispy on the outside, soft in the middle -- with salt and rosemary and a huge glass of Champagne. (That's the most important part.) Oh! And salt and pepper dip. Take one bite of a fry, then roll the bitten end in a mix of salt and coarse black pepper. Don't forget the Champagne, though.

Bryce: Crispy outside, tender inside, stuffed into a paper cup and covered in salt and malt vinegar -- best served on the beach.

More: Get everything you need to make the perfect burger.

Catherine: I'm a fan of über-crunchy fries. You know those tiny, shard-like bits at the bottom of the French fry package? Yep, those are my jam. Also, when it comes to dipping sauce, the Belgians had it right -- mayo for life!

Posie: Now I am hungry. I like fries that are crisp and a bit crunchy on the outside, long but not too stringy -- and if you've never made homemade French fries and homemade strawberry milkshakes for dinner in the summer, and dipped a salty French fry in your milkshake...well, you are missing out.

Lindsay-Jean: Not too thick, not too thin -- the Goldilocks of French fries -- but definitely crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. My all-time favorites are seasoned with fennel pollen, and I order them every single time under the pretense of sharing. Malt vinegar comes in at a very close second.

More: Brush up on the best oil for frying

Brette: I love hot, salty steak fries -- the big, really thick fries that ideally have some jagged edges. They need to be crazy hot. With a ridiculous amount of cold ketchup.

Lauren L: There must be vinegar; blame Canada. The crispy-tender ratio is important, and I don’t care for steak fries. Too much middle. 

Gabriella P: I think about this a lot. I've never met a French fry I didn't like, but I definitely prefer them on the stringy/crispy side. My favorite fries in the city are at the Standard Grill -- they're coated in quinoa flour before fried to get the perfect level of exterior crisp. 

More: Know your potatoes before you fry 'em. 

Marian: Recently, I keep thinking of April Bloomfield's fries at The Spotted Pig -- long, skinny shoestrings, presented in one big tangle, laced with rosemary needles that have clearly been deep-fried too. They're messy and perfect, and you look like a horse eating hay whenever you have some. 

Merrill: I'm in Karl's sweet potato fry camp. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights makes what I consider to be the pinnacle of the cottage fry: crisp and burnished on the outside, with an almost impossibly tender belly, served with a slightly spicy ketchup-mayo combo. 

Peter: I'll wait in with an answer that is sure to stir teenage memories for Amanda. My platonic French fries are from Thrasher's in Bethany Beach, Delaware. Twice-fried in peanut oil, always piping hot, lots of crispy bits the bottom, and malt vinegar for the sophisticated teenage palate.

Jason: I'm in the thin and crispy boat, with whole-grain mustard, sriracha mayo, and chipotle mayo on the side for dipping. Ketchup is disgusting.

More: Whether you're on Team Ketchup or Team Mayo, serve your condiments in style.

Stephanie: Fries should be crispy, thin (but not too thin), and still have the skin on. Ditto on the malt vinegar (though I used to prefer white). I still remember the first time I asked for vinegar for my fries in the U.S. and all I got in return was a funny look. 

Allison: I used to be a sweet potato fry kind of a gal, but I finally accepted that what I usually get in return is a limp, soggy pile of disappointment. I still hold them as my "platonic ideal," but I've since shifted to the standard fry: skin on, super crispy, with enough of an interior to remind me that I am eating potato. Served simply, with (we're talking burgers, right?) ketchup.

Tell us: What's your perfect fry?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Heather
  • Ty Unique
    Ty Unique
  • Beth
  • nycsoutherngirl
  • rick246
Writer, Fooder, Blogger. New Yorker turned Cape Coder.


Heather October 20, 2014
The quest for REALLY good (for me, crispy, yet substantial) oven-baked fries has led me on an odyssey of many years. Finally, a recipe came to the rescue. 2-3 large russets (I peel) cut to my liking, covered with cold water and 1 TB salt plus 1TB vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook at least 5 min., til starting to get a little softened. Drain. Toss with 1/4 c. duck fat (can use whatever fat you like, including olive oil). Don't fret over crumbles of potatoes which separate from bigger ones; while they seem like fries gone to mash, they come together and crisp up nicely Season with pepper and more salt and cook on parchment covered trays in 500 degree oven, rotating and turning as needed, until crispy as you like. Sprigs of thyme or chopped rosemary are great spread over at beginning of the bake. I regret not having the original source to give credit to this recipe...I copied it down as "ultra crispy oven fries". I apologize to the talented cook who originally shared it.
Ty U. September 28, 2014
Why should you have. The last fren h frire
Beth May 10, 2014
IRINA! I know how they did it - recipe from old The joy of cooking book -
first - old potatoes - wrinkly and you can't easily remove any skin with your thumbnail- the goal is potatoes that have a slightly darker layer of potato all around the outside - this is what puffs and crisps. I think because it is dryer?
second - cut them up and soak in saltwater for a while - don't remember how long - 1-4 hours maybe?
third - fry them in lard - yes lard (you can do the Frymax oil thing and add some lard to whatever tasteless oil you are using)

fourth - cook 'em and drain them but don't salt them - just before serving dump them back in the hot oil and TADA! if the potatoes are old enough you get a crisp outer layer and a soft potatoee inner layer.
nycsoutherngirl May 10, 2014
1. where can I good the glass condiment dish in picture 5, its fabulous. fries: Monk's pomme frites w/ burbon mayo in Philly.
rick246 May 9, 2014
Pommes Frites; best place to have them is Germany.
smr May 9, 2014
olive oil.. nough said
Dee T. May 9, 2014
Fresh Cut Idaho potato Fries/ twice fried. Slightly thick, crispy outside and soft potato inside. The small broken pieces are saved best for last. Condiments include flavored ketchups and Mayo.
TheBostonian May 9, 2014
I'm not huge on fries (I know, I know), but I will eat them like a fiend at a place in Boston called a Publick House, due to the condiment options: garlic-asiago mayo, chipotle mayo, creamy beer mustard, truffle ketchup, bacon-horseradish aioli, apricot ipa bbq. The chipotle mayo in particular is manna from the gods.
Nicole O. May 9, 2014
The perfect crinkle fry or the crispiest steak fry on the planet. I cannot deal with battered ruins the whole concept.
lastnightsdinner May 9, 2014
The super-browned fries at Reynard in Williamsburg are my new favorite. I could probably eat my weight in them.
irina May 9, 2014
My favorite was what they used to serve at the Rainbow Room back before the Cipriani's ruined things. They were puffy double fried
and delicious.
Succeeded at home once and never again.