Last weekend, we had 13 friends over for moules-frites. This — plus a big green salad, some crusty baguettes and more white wine than seems conscionable — is my favorite dinner party menu. It makes the easiest, surprisingly budget-conscious meal and might, if you play your cards right, make you feel ever-so-slightly like you’re on vacation somewhere European and full of sailor-types. Okay, maybe that’s pushing things but let’s run with it. I forgot to add, however that it’s best for 6 people, 8 at most. As soon as the mussels exceed the volume of your largest pot or the fries surpass the one large tray that fits in your oven (plus you have a salad you really only want to toss at the last minute), basically everything needing to be cooked à la minute, you’re going to have to hustle. I am constitutionally incapable of hustling; we ate dinner at 10.
I usually make my oven fries, but I decided that for a crowd it would be easier to let a fryer do the work and borrowed one from a friend (who is married to another friend who’s obsessed with fried chicken, I mean, I’m sure it’s just coincidence). Loosely following J. Kenji López-Alt’s directions, I prepped 7 pounds of potatoes the day before but as I stuck them in the freezer overnight, I realized that this was going to allot each person approximately 16 fries. Look, I know we all like to believe that we eat only 16 fries when we go out and that’s totally fine, but I think we can all agree that we are going to be happiest if person who makes your fries knows better and cooks accordingly.
So I went back to the store for another 7 pounds of potatoes and as I peeled and soaked and dried and fried and drained and only to fry these again later, 1. I began to understand why restaurants have a dedicated fry cook. 2. I decided to make these with a less complex twice-fried method and I did a quick search for the best starting temperature — and you can tune back in now, I promise the point is nigh — I landed on a 2009 Cook’s Illustrated recipe that boasted no peeling, no soaking, no deep-fry thermometer or deep-fryer needed, and that used 1/3 of the oil that the deep-fryer required, also meaning that you can also buy better stuff without going broke, and that claimed to absorb less. [This the cooking equivalent of searching to the ends of the earth for the dress you’re looking for only to settle for a nonreturnable second choice before finding it.]
You’d think I’d never want to see another french fry again after last weekend, but only if you don’t know me and my tireless devotion to fried potatoes better. Plus, how could I not want to find out? I was reminded as I was prepping these of my friend Valerie, who would sometimes make really excellent fries for our lucky kids at playdates and I would pester her in the kitchen, “Do you soak them to get rid of extra starch? You fry them twice at different temperatures, right?” And she looked at me like I had two heads and said “Non. I just fry them.”
And it turns out, both Valerie and Cook’s Illustrated were onto something which is that if you use the slightly waxier potatoes known as Yukon Golds (or yellow potatoes), which are far more delicious if you ask me anyway, you can put them right into a pot of cold oil that barely covers them and cook them over high heat for about 25 minutes almost completely hands off and drain off the most golden, crisp, glittering with fine sea salt heap of french fried happiness. And then, if you’re in it for the science, you can measure the oil you have leftover and discover that they’d absorbed all of 4 tablespoons, which will absolutely lead to french fries in your life more often. Guys, I am just here to help.