Coronavirus has impacted the way we cook, eat, and shop for groceries in many ways—not least of all by spurring shortages of certain ingredients. First came the scarcity of flour and yeast, then a dearth of frozen pizza; now a frozen french fry shortage may be upon us. But as long as you can get potatoes and a whole lot of neutral oil, perfect homemade french fries are within your grasp.
How to Make Crispy French Fries
There’s no denying it: The fast food french fry is a masterpiece of lightness and crispiness. To try and improve on its exalted form would be to admit defeat—it can’t be done. But right now, it’s not so easy to fetch a batch by simply heading on down to your nearest drive-thru or takeout spot.
Luckily, it is possible to make great french fries at home. The key is to use the double-fry technique that takes the potato pieces through the oil twice: first through a pre-blanch, to help reinforce their surface crispiness, and then through a second run to make sure their insides get cooked fluffy. Also important: choosing the right type of potato, blotting off all excess moisture, and soaking overnight (more on all of those below).
As a bonus, when you make fries yourself, there’s a whole range of shapes and sizes and styles to explore. Plus, you can play with seasonings you’d never get at McDonald’s.
If you don’t want to whip out that deep fryer, there are wonderful ways to make healthier fries as well—and yes, of course, you can use an air fryer—but if you want the full-on fast food crisp, this is how to get there.
First, Plan Ahead
Be aware that you’ll need to soak your cut potatoes in cold water for at least a couple hours to help remove excess starch and prevent them sticking together. You can also cut them and leave them in the cold water in the fridge overnight, then proceed with drying and frying the next day.
What You Need to Make French Fries
- 3 pounds russet potatoes
- Juice of 1 lemon
- About 3 quarts peanut or canola oil (do not use olive oil or any other oil with a low smoke point)
- Kosher salt
Note: This is enough for about four servings, but you can decrease the amounts by half for a smaller batch.
A chef’s knife or a french fry cutter
You can cut your potatoes into matchsticks with a good sharp chef’s knife, but if you have trouble getting the hang of it, there are specific tools designed for this job:
Weston French Fry Cutter, $99.95 at Williams Sonoma
For making quick work of it.
8-Inch Chef's Knife, $89 at Made In
The more versatile option.
A frying vessel
Likewise, a real countertop deep fryer will definitely produce crisp fries, but you can also fry them in the deep Dutch oven you probably already own:
All-Clad Deep Fryer, $199.95 at Sur La Table
For those who really love fried foods.
Lodge 6-Quart Dutch Oven, $69.90 at Target
For frying in Dutch ovens, at least 6 quarts is the ideal size.
You’ll need to use a baking sheet or two to drain your fries as they come out of the hot oil:
Nordic Ware Half Sheet Pans, 2 for $29.56 at Sur La Table
For holding your freshly fried spuds.
Tongs, or a spider strainer
Tongs will work to remove the fries from the oil, but a spider strainer can handle more at one time without damaging any:
Spider Skimmer, $16.96+ at Sur La Table
Don't let the name deter you; this is a truly handy kitchen tool.
A deep-fat thermometer
And a deep-fat thermometer is highly recommended so you know precisely when your oil is ready:
Candy & Deep Fry Thermometer, $14.95 at Sur La Table
Because the right temperature is crucial.
Steps to Making French Fries
1. Cut the potatoes into sticks about 3 to 4 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. As you work, put the cut potatoes in a large bowl of cold water to keep them from discoloring from contact with the air. When you’re finished, drain and rinse the potatoes, then cover with fresh cold water, a couple handfuls of ice cubes, and the lemon juice. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
2. Before you begin frying, line a large rimmed baking sheet with 2 layers of sheets cut from a clean brown paper bag, or paper towels. You’ll drain the fries on these. You’ll also need more towels to dry the potatoes before frying.
3. When you’re ready to fry, add the oil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches in a 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat and heat the oil until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°F. Meanwhile, drain the potatoes well, then spread on paper towels to dry (not the same paper towels you’ll use to drain them). Blot dry with additional towels; you want the potatoes to be as dry as possible so they actually get crisp.
4. Working in small batches, add the potatoes to the hot oil and fry, stirring occasionally with tongs or a spider, until tender and very lightly golden brown, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the fries using the spider or tongs. Drain on the lined baking sheet and let them cool for about 20 minutes. Repeat with the remaining fries, letting the oil come back to 325°F between batches.
5. Set up another draining station with fresh baking sheets and towels or paper bags in preparation for the second dip in the oil.
6. After all the fries have cooled for at least 20 minutes, raise the heat to medium-high and bring the oil to a temperature of 375°F. Working in small batches again, return the potatoes to the oil. Fry, stirring occasionally with the tongs or spider, until they’re evenly crisp and golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using the spider or tongs, transfer the fries to the fresh sheets of brown paper bag, or paper towels, to drain briefly. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately, with or without ketchup.
Eat these with a juicy burger for a dose of pure Americana.
What Is the Best Type of Potato for French Fries?
Potatoes high in starch—like russets (aka, Idaho potatoes or baking potatoes)—are ideal for frying, since they contain less moisture and will cook up crisp outside and fluffy within. Avoid waxy potatoes. In a pinch, Yukon Golds (which are like a hybrid of waxy and starchy) may be used, but russets are still preferable.
- As soon as your spuds come out of the fryer for the second time, instead of sprinkling with simple salt, try hitting them with Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel Seasoning, curry powder, Old Bay, or other spice blends.
- Instead of serving with ketchup, try aioli or another dipping sauce.
More Ways to Cut French Fries
There are also several other fry shapes worth trying:
Yes, you will need special equipment to get this springy, bouncy shape. But the investment is worth it for coils that are fun to eat and delightfully tender (bonus: you can finally make zoodles too). Get the Curly Fries recipe.
Paderno 7-Blade Spiralizer, $59.95 at Williams Sonoma
This cuts spirals and then some.
These thin slivers are all about the crunch. Break out the julienne peeler or mandoline to achieve evenly-sized strands, and make sure to throw in a few herbs to boost the flavor. Get the Shoestring Fries recipe.
A few shades thicker than chips, these simple fries simply involve slicing your potatoes into round medallions. You get a nice balance between chewy insides and crispy surface area with these flat shapes. Get the Cottage Fries recipe.
Home fries make oiled up potatoes acceptable to eat for breakfast. And as their name implies, these are the one kind you should be able to whip up while still in your pajamas. All it takes is a skillet and some seasoning. Get our Home Fries recipe. (Add mix-ins like leftover pastrami and peppers and you have a hash!)
OK, so oven fries are not so much a style as they are a technique. But baked fries are great for when you want potatoes that cut down on the grease. Although you’re not going to get any deep-fried crispiness with these, they still pack plenty of spud flavor—cut them into matchsticks if you prefer, or go with wedges. Get our Oven Fries recipe.
Miki Kawasaki wrote the original version of this story in 2015; it has been updated with additional links, images, and text.