How To: Pan Fry Potatoes at Home

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t love a good French fry? I mean we’re talking cripsy gold outside, fluffy potato inside, with that perfect seasoning of salt and your favorite dipping sauce… heaven! There are so many ways to eat French fries too! Melt a mountain of cheddar jack cheese on top, sprinkle on some bacon and a dollop of sour cream…. pour a heavy serving of your favorite chili on top with some cheddar and green onion… dip them in your favorite trio of aioli…. toss them in some truffle oil, garlic, and Parmesan so they’re fancy fries…. is your mouth watering yet?

Getting the perfect potato at home can be tricky. We’ve all bought a frozen bag of fries and tried to bake them in the oven. I think we can all agree these just aren’t the same as when they’re fresh out of a deep fryer at your favorite fast food restaurant. So how do you get that golden perfection at home? Easy! Pan fry them in animal fat.

Pan frying can be scary for some at home if you’ve never cooked with that much oil at one time. We recommend using a medium sized pot. If you take the right precautions and monitor your process you’ll be fine! Some pro tips are below!

  1. Oil Level: You want enough oil so that whatever cut of potato you’re frying has the ability to be submerged in the oil without over crowding the pan. About half way full.
  2. Temperature: Make sure you get a thermometer that reaches temperatures of 400°F or higher. Your oil should be around 350-375°F, so making sure you keep it in that range is key. You don’t want your oil to get too hot and start to smoke, or potentially start a grease fire.
  3. Safety first: If a fire should happen (most likely not if you’re careful), turn off the heat source, try to put a lid on it to remove all oxygen from the flame, or dump baking soda onto the flame – a LOT of baking soda. NEVER PUT WATER ON A GREASE FIRE – WE REPEAT – NEVER DUMP WATER ON A GREASE FIRE. This will only make things worse.
  4. Safety second: Make sure you never leave the oil unattended! I think the same rule applies to all stove -top cooking. Stay close and watch the oil temperature and the color of your food as it cooks. This will give and indication of when it’s done!
  5. Don’t crowd the pot: You don’t want to put too much food in the pot. Make sure all the potatoes have room to move around and flip in the oil for even cooking. Putting too much food in prevents the oil from maintaining the correct temperature as well.
  6. Safe Removal: If you have a metal or wire strainer, these work best for removing the potatoes from the oil safely. Place hot food on a plate with paper towel.

Preparing your potatoes is just as important! We’ve prepared 3/8 in cut fries, steak fries, and potato chips for you below! Let’s start with potato chips. These are pretty simple to prep – either by hand or using a mandolin on a very thin setting – slice your Idaho potatoes in thin, even thicknesses. Place the potatoes in a large bowl of water. Ideally you want these to soak overnight to get the best outcome possible, but an hour or so will work fine in a pinch. Soaking helps to remove a lot of the starches from the potato (sugars) that can burn easily in the fryer. You’ll notice that the potatoes become very firm to the touch after soaking for even just an hour or so. If you have the ability to change out the water once or twice before frying, we recommend that as well! We recommend keeping your oil around 325-350°F for these chips. The lower the temperature, the less likely they will be to burn. Since the surface area to oil ratio is larger on these chips, they will cook quickly, around 2 minutes is all you need!

When your potatoes are thoroughly rinsed and ready to fry, take them out of the water and place on a plate with a paper towel. Try to let them sit for a few minutes, and pat as much water off as possible. Take your metal strainer and place the potatoes in the oil gently. DO NOT drop from high above the oil, this will splash and potentially burn you! Water does not mix well with oil, and so this is the first reaction you will see once you drop them in the pot. There will be a whole lot of action, bubbling, and noise pretty quickly! This is normal as the water is evaporating out of the potatoes and the oil. With your strainer tool or a wood stick, flip the slices of potatoes as needed. Once they are a golden brown and start to sing (yes, they sing to you), remove them from the oil with the metal strainer and place in a bowl. Salt and season as desired in the bowl.

Pro Tip: Do not salt or season the potatoes BEFORE you fry, or season the oil. Most of your seasoning will flash off in the frying process, and adding salt to the oil actually degrades it and breaks it down much faster. Once your food is removed from the frying, season away!

3/8 in cut French fries are next! These are probably the most popular cut in the restaurant industry. They are square in shape and usually have a little skin on the ends. These are a two step process. To start, cut your potatoes in even strips around 3/8 in on each side. Once cut, place them aside. You will need to boil them in some water for a little bit, and we recommend adding vinegar to the water. about a 10:1 water-to-vinegar ratio. This give the fries a little extra kick. You want to cook them enough so that they’re soft to the touch and hold their shape, but not fall apart. Around 8 – 10 minutes.

Next, they need to be laid out on a sheet pan and placed in the freezer. They should be ready in a few hours, but we recommend overnight for best results. If you make a big batch, once they’re frozen, you can store in plastic bags and save for future use! Much less expensive than buying bags of fries and they taste better too!

When you’re ready to fry, get your oil up to 350-375°F. Once dropped (carefully) in the oil, you will see that instant reaction of the waters evaporating from the oil. Leave the fries in the oil for about 3 1/2 minutes. This will ensure the outside is super crispy, and the potato light and fluffy. You’ll notice that when using animal fats your food will be less greasy once removed from the oil. Even if you let your fries sit for a bit, you will still get that crunch – and rarely experience a soggy fry if you cook them properly. When removing from oil, place in a large bowl and toss with salt or your desired seasonings!

For steak fries, cut the fries in more of a rectangular shape, with one side being slightly thicker than the other. You want a good heartiness to them! The same procedure for boiling them in the vinegar applies, as well as freezing overnight on a sheet tray. These also need the same oil temperature – around 350-375°F, for about 4 minutes. They’re a tad thicker so will need a little more cooking time. Remove from oil and season as desired!

Our quick pro tips above apply for anything you’re deep frying at home! Whether it’s potatoes or fried chicken, the only thing that will change is the temperature of the oil and the cook time. Safety always comes first, so make sure you have prepared properly, are watching the oil temperature, and keeping a close eye on your food the entire time you’re cooking.

The secret to the perfect French fry is using animal fats versus common vegetable oils! You don’t have to take our word for it, just listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s famous podcast,
“McDonald’s Broke My Heart”, about the joys of beef fat fries! And as an added bonus, animal fat oil is also reusable! The more you use it, the color will start to brown, but this is normal and will season the oil and give your food lots of flavor. To save, place a cheese cloth in a filter cone and pour the oil through it into a jar or can. You can seal and store either in your cabinet or refrigerator. This will catch any food particles in the oil before storing. We recommend keeping the oil refrigerator so it stays fresher longer!