When Merrill and I aren't at Morandi for our Manhattan meetings, we like to go to the Ace Hotel, whose lobby lies at the nexus of a Stumptown coffee shop, the Breslin, and hipster-dom. A couple of weeks ago, we made the life-altering decision to order the Breslin's "thrice-cooked" potato chips (fries, in American english).
They are, in my view, the ideal fry. They have a surface that crackles when you bite into it, yet is quite chewy. They are sweet yet plenty salty. They smell of pork fat yet are not leaden. And they come with cumin mayo, so what else could you possibly want? Well, a ginger beer -- that's what I like to order with them.
I had to try them at home. Thinking "thrice-cooked" meant fried in oil three times, I failed monumentally with my first experiment. I ended up with flaccid potato sticks that tasted bitter, rejected the salt I threw on them and were utterly vapid.
So I turned, as I often do in times of cooking crises, to my good friends-I've-never-met-in-person on Twitter. I was quickly set straight about the source of "thrice-cooked" potatoes: they are a Heston Blumenthal classic. Then bonniebenwick stepped in and pointed me in the direction of this recipe from Waitrose, which sums up the key points in the technique -- boil the potatoes until tender, freeze them, fry them at a low temperature, freeze them again, and finally fry them at a higher temperature to crisp and brown the potatoes.
I played around a little with the recipe. I used Yukon Golds and russets because we don't have access to the Maris Piper and King Edward potatoes called for in the recipe. I knocked the boiled potatoes around a bit in the pan to rough up the edges and make them crisper when fried (also a British trick). And because the waiter at the Breslin told us they fry the potatoes in lard, I went for a modified version, adding 2 slices of pancetta to a quart of peanut oil.
The potatoes came out handsomely, even if not quite as impeccable as those at the Breslin. Next time, I'd go all out and fry them in the delicious leaf lard from Flying Pigs Farm, and I'd invite my friends over and have them each bring a dish so I could focus on making the most labor intensive but delicious fries on the planet.
1. Place the sliced potatoes in a large pan of cold water and soak for half an hour. This removes excess starch, giving the potatoes a lighter texture.
2. Rinse and place the potatoes in a pan with cold water seasoned generously with sea salt. Bring to a boil and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until you can insert a knife easily through the center of the largest chip. Drain and run the chips under very cold water to prevent further cooking. Place the potatoes back in the pan, cover with a lid and shake the pan vigorously to rough up the edges. Spread the potatoes on a tea towel to dry and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes. You want the potatoes very cold, if not nearly frozen, before you drop them into the hot oil to fry.
3. Fill a medium saucepan a third full of oil or lard (about 1 quart) and heat it to 270 degrees. If using oil, add the pancetta and cook until crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta (eat once cool!). Remove the potatoes from the freezer and carefully lower into the hot oil in batches of 8–10, cooking for 4–6 minutes, until they start to color. Drain on paper towel and continue cooking the remaining potatoes before cooling them in the freezer for another 30 minutes. Alternatively, prepare up to this stage a day in advance and leave them in the freezer overnight.
4. For the final cooking, heat the same oil to 350 degrees and again, lower small batches of the potatoes into it. Cook for 2–3 minutes or until crisp and golden. As they come out of the oil, drain on paper towel and give each batch of fries a good sprinkling of sea salt. Serve with mayonnaise or ketchup and eat while hot.