We thew a little get together this weekend, nothing fancy - chili and beer and, once things got rolling, some deep frying action. The chili was pretty damn good but it's going to take some time for me to figure out what the hell I did, so in the interim: French fries.
Deep frying has a bad rap, deservedly so from a heath perspective, but come on. Nothing is tastier on a late spring afternoon than a burger with homemade fries.
This is my father's recipe, which is probably as simple as you can get. The equipment, however, is less standard but pretty damned important. so here goes.
You'll need a large pot with high vertical sides to keep the oil in. You'll also need a thermometer, a metal slotted spatula or metal tongs, paper towels and a small pile of newspaper or, failing that, more paper towels.
Some notes on this stuff: Cast iron is best because you're going to be heating the oil to a very high temperature and cast iron stands up to that best, though the size is more important than the material. You'll need a multipurpose kitchen thermometer - a meat thermometer won't do you any good because most of them only go up to 200-something degrees Fahrenheit and that's not gonna cut it. And you'll need a metal slotted spatula because the slots will let the excess oil out and the metal won't melt in the oil. You'll also need some frying oil (corn, vegetable or peanut, not olive. Olive oil will burn before you get it to a high enough temperature) and, I guess, some potatoes.
Skin your potatoes if you want (I don't), slice 'em how you want 'em and leave them in a bowl of ice water for 45 minutes or so - this will wick away some of the potatoes' starch and make 'em crispier when they actually go in the oil. Pour about three inches of oil into your pan, and heat it to 325F over medium-high heat. Don't crank it all the way, as you want to make sure it heats relatively evenly. You don't have to stir it, but keep an eye on it. Its temperature will rise exponentially, so start getting ready when it hits 300 degrees fahrenheit or so.
heating oil always scares me, and it damn well should scare you. It's probably obvious, but for the record (again): be careful. hot oil can cause serious damage to you, to your pets, to your children and to anything else it comes in contact with. Don't ignore it and stay clear and please, for the love of all things holy, keep your utensils clean and dry - clean so that whatever might be stuck to them doesn't contaminate the oil and dry so the oil doesn't spit when you're fishing around for the potatoes.
There are some tricks to knowing when the oil's ready if you don't have a real thermometer, but most of those, like flicking some water (or, if you're my father, spit) into the oil to see if it bubbles on contact, are imprecise or gross. Those tricks are good at telling if the oil's hot enough, but bad at telling if it's too hot - overheated oil will burn the outsides of your fries before the insides are done, and it's best to avoid that. It will also smoke, which is an eye irritant even if you can't actually see it in the air.
Once your potatoes have soaked and your oil's at the right temperature, pat them dry with a paper towel and gently slide them into the oil. They'll spit like mad, so stand back. You're going to have to do this in batches to make more than a single serving of fries, but you're not cooking them for that long and you'll get into a groove fairly quickly. Fry the potatoes for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently. When they've reached a golden-brown (which can be hard to judge right, but you'll get the hang of it) pull them out.
You're not done yet: the trick to good fries is to fry 'em twice. Crank up the oil's temperature to 375F. Once it's there, drop your fries back in for 2-3 minutes. The second frying will crisp the outsides of the fries to keep 'em from getting mushy. Pull them out and drop them into a thick rolled up cone of newspaper or into a wooden or metal (not plastic) bowl lined with paper towels. The newspaper will absorb the surface oil without pulling the oil out of the centers of the fries, leaving them moist.
Salt prodigiously and serve immediately. A potato and a half will comfortably serve one person as a side, double it otherwise. Multiply as required. And if you have a massive coronary, it ain't my fault.
(If this looks familiar, a different version of this was originally posted here.)