Potato

Patricia Wells' Fake Frites

January 28, 2015

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A trick for the best french fries you can make at home -- in the oven, using less oil than you'd put on a salad. Game on.

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Even the most diehard DIYers among us stop short at french fries. We think our fries can never be as good as the hot, salty, fatty ones lifted from a restaurant-grade fryer basket, so we focus our energies anywhere else. We're vying against McDonald's, and that's not a race we want to lose, or enter, or even admit to thinking about.

Twice-fried, thrice-fried; none of it sounds all that enticing to home cooks, save for scattered obsessives, especially when home-cooked potatoes in so many other forms are rewarding and well within our reach (see: roasted, rostied, dominoed, hash-browned).  

So it took a technique this easy and preposterous-seeming to make me want to even bother. Then I tried a couple other ways, and -- yep -- this was still the best.

Patricia Wells cuts baking potatoes into fat strips, steams them till they're tender, and then -- either right away or even hours later -- roasts them in the hottest possible oven with surprisingly little olive oil. Then she adds salt, just at the end.

None of this seems like it could possibly be good. I use more oil and salt when roasting anything than you'll use in this recipe -- you even deliberately leave any excess oil behind in the bowl. And yet the fries come out excellently, like chubby, golden-brown steak fries with crisp edges and creamy middles. How?

  

"The steaming allows a fine, moist coating of starch to form on the surface of the potato, providing a very crisp texture when baked," Wells explains. You can actually see this pale sheen on the cut faces of each frite after you lift the lid and tumble them from their steamer basket.

Under a faint coat of oil, those starches will stiffen and brown and crisp, and help keep the potatoes from sticking to the baking sheet too. And because the frites are already steamed tender, they won't burn before they're cooked through, as would inevitably be the case if you were to just throw raw chunks of potato into the oven at 500° F.

  

While the method isn't an exact recreation of the crustiest, deep-fried, oil-crisped french fry (that's why they're called "Fake Frites"), it feels nothing like a lackluster impersonation either. These frites have everything that the best roasted potatoes do -- the crackly edges, the smooth, sweet centers -- plus the messy, hands-on appeal of steak fries. And that unapologetic discrepancy is also what's so good about them -- you can put away half a tray and it won't make you lethargic and unsettled the way eating too much deep-fried food can. 

So on game day, you don't have to fill your house and your hair and your underclothes with the heavy air of deep frying. You don't need to buy bottles of oil and then dispose of them. You don't need to wash an oil-spattered pot and stove and thermometer and whatever else you spilled on. And you don't have to just throw bags of Fritos and a six-pack on the coffee table either. All you need is this tidy steam-and-roast routine, and ketchup.  

Patricia Wells' Fake Frites

From At Home in Provence (Scribner, 1999)

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds baking potatoes, such as Idaho russets or Bintje, peeled and cut into thick fries, 3/4 inch by 3 inches
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt to taste

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom 

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35 Comments

Barbara C. July 27, 2015
I have made both yams and potatoes this way for years.....when they come out of the oven, I drizzle truffle oil on them...
 
Barbara C. July 11, 2017
Me too! So delish!
 
Todd J. February 14, 2015
I prefer using:<br />Bayou Classic 1201 10-Qt. Aluminum Fry Pot with Basket<br />Peanut Oil<br />Yellow Potatoes<br />Pull down Potatoe slicing machine
 
booglix February 9, 2015
That's a beautiful knife in the third photo! What kind is it??
 
Tracey S. February 18, 2015
it IS beautiful.....i can't believe i found it...on my 1st search.... :-)<br /><br /> http://www.epicedge.com/shopdisplayproducts.asp?id=1415 /<br /><br />found it here actually...... <br /><br />http://decanteddesign.com/2014/12/02/ktchen-knives-as-a-thing-of-beauty-a-selection-from-japan-israel-belgium-france-denmark-the-usa/
 
tastysweet January 3, 2016
Thanks for the site for the knife. Went on the epicedge and found a vegetable knife i like. That will be my next purchase in a couple of months. Xmas and all.
 
Dan February 6, 2015
I'm curious about your steaming set up. What are you using above the pot?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 7, 2015
It's a copper steamer insert that I found at a vintage store (in the second photo you can see the holes at the bottom), but a colander or one of those collapsible steamer baskets would do the trick too.
 
Denise G. January 31, 2015
Tried this method with sweet potatoes last night. We devoured them and wanted more. Thanks to the chef who shared this, and to the person who asked if it could be done with sweet potatoes!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 2, 2015
Denise, thank you for trying it out and reporting back!
 
Franca January 31, 2015
I have been making them this way for years.
 
Kristy M. January 29, 2015
Made these last night-took a LONG time to brown in oven at 425 degrees...well over 20 minutes. They were just OK not very crisp either. I usually just make fries in the oven by soaking the potato sticks in salted water, then dry them and coat lightly with oil and bake at 425 until crisp, turning 2-3 times.
 
loulou January 28, 2015
The steaming seems unnecessary. The potatoes let off enough steam while baking. My method: Prehrat oven (preferay convection) to 400. Grease foil lined cookie sheet<br />Sliced potatoes into a bowl, toss with just enough oil to thinly coat, and line up on sheet. Bake for about 45 min.
 
JoAnne L. January 28, 2015
Just made this recipe, after following it precisely, my batch ended up in the garbage bin. I found them to be starchy and lackluster. My husband makes the most fantastic fries using a sauce pot on top of the stove, potatoes and oil. Our three grandsons LOVE PaPa's fries! They're better than McDonald's-really! I should have followed my own rule before trying this recipe, "Simple foods are best cooked simply".
 
Chris February 7, 2015
Could you elaborate on the process your husband uses?
 
JoAnne L. February 10, 2015
His method is simple but he seems to "have the touch". He uses large Russets, baking size, scrubs and dries them but doesn't peel them. He cuts them lengthwise into large Cottage size French Fries, approximately 1/2" to 3/4". He sometimes does them smaller but never mixes sizes. He uses a fairly small but deep saucepan, a 3 quart Cuisineart pan. He heats the oil, sometimes olive oil or a mix, he used grape seed mixed with olive oil last week, until it's very hot (he doesn't use a thermometer) and fries the potatoes in small batches until they're just turning a slight golden color. He pays close attention to the temperature and adjusts the flame as he cooks the potatoes. He puts the cooked fries on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels then sprinkles them lightly with Lawry's Seasoned Salt. That's it. He tried a very good deep fryer ONCE but the results weren't nearly as good as his stovetop fries. I must tell you that he's a natural, fearless cook, he's been cooking since he was very young, six or seven, out of necessity so he's very comfortable in the kitchen. Good luck!
 
lizabeth January 28, 2015
Would waxier potatoes such as Yukon Gold and Red Potatoes work just as well?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 2, 2015
Hi lizabeth -- I believe it would work, but haven't tried it yet. Please let us know if you do!
 
Darlene March 7, 2015
I did this with Yukons! Turned out great for me. :)
 
elf1 January 28, 2015
You can also sprinkle the par boiled potatoes with semolina before roasting for a crispy coat...great with a roast dinner.
 
Kristy M. January 28, 2015
tried them just now-pretty good!
 
AntoniaJames January 28, 2015
Ah, this brings back memories of one of my mother's scrummy holiday dishes: "chateau potatoes" prepared the traditional way. The potatoes are parboiled and then put into the roasting pan with the Christmas roast. The principle is the same - release the starch to the surface before putting in the hot oven. My mother did not steam them - she parboiled them in water for just a few minutes, and then she put them in a big colander and shook them vigorously. She insisted on this step, saying that if you rough up the potatoes thoroughly, it produces a better surface for developing a deep, chewy crust. I'm going to try these "frites," applying that principle and method, by parboiling first and then roughing up the potatoes in a metal colander. (I'll do a portion at the same time using Wells's method, to see if there's any difference.) I'll always be thankful to my mother for teaching me, when I was about 12, how to shape those "chateau potatoes," using a sharp paring knife to create as many little lengthwise "corners" (quite oblique) as possible on the long ovals, for maximum crust production. ;o)
 
Casey M. January 28, 2015
Do you think this would work with sweet potatoes?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 2, 2015
Someone over on the recipe page reported that sweet potatoes worked out great. https://food52.com/recipes/33343-patricia-wells-fake-frites
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 2, 2015
My mistake -- it was actually Denise Greene above!
 
Denise G. January 28, 2015
Yes! I've been using a similar method for creating pan-crisped potatoes--steaming them in the microwave first. Works for frites or home fries, in the skillet or in the oven. Thanks for this! I'll be sharing it.
 
judith January 28, 2015
Can one successfully leave the skin on?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 2, 2015
Yes! I like them both ways.
 
Mike V. January 28, 2015
Most certainly going to try this method, thank you!<br />
 
stinkycheese January 28, 2015
This looks like a great method. But at 500 degrees I will use an oil with a high smoke point, not EVOO! That seems like a waste of good olive oil....
 
Andrea F. January 28, 2015
I get quite a similar goal by cooking the potatoes in a disposable aluminium sealed baking tray for 30 minutes (with little oil and a ready mix of spices and salt), then I remove the tray cover and roast for 30' more, or until the crust is ok. I put them in the tray very very neatly so at the end they have all a homogenous crust like real frites. Obviously I use baking paper.
 
Coffee A. January 28, 2015
This makes sense since that's how we Brits make our roast potatoes...boil slightly and crisp in the oven. Soft and fluffy inside and crispy and golden brown outside. I'm so trying this!!