Thursday, January 5, 2012

French Fries!

Dear Kate,

I'm sure you remember a few years ago when we were on vacation in Maine we went to Old Orchard Beach, home of two important things:  Palace Playland and Lisa's Pizza.  The pizza is not the greatest, but the french fries, known as pier fries, are awesome.

I assume the original pier fries were actually made by a place located on the Old Orchard Beach pier.  Maybe you can still buy them there, but I always liked Lisa's Pizza, located just up the street.  People have been enjoying pier food here for more than 100 years, which is kind of amazing considering the bad luck the pier has suffered.  It was built in 1898, rebuilt after a fire in 1907, again after a storm washed most of it away in 1909, again after another fire in 1970, and finally once again after a blizzard in 1978.  There was once a casino and a ballroom located at the pier, and Frank Sinatra even played there once.  Now it is home to food, bars, and touristy shops.

The Pier as seen from the Ferris Wheel.

And don't forget Palace Playland, home of classic amusement park rides, like the Ferris Wheel, bumper cars, the purple rollercoaster, and my favorite, The Matterhorn.  I love the cheesy, carnival atmosphere that is like stepping back in time.

The Matterhorn!

I was so excited to discover that I could make homemade fries that taste remarkably like pier fries!  I've always been a little afraid to deep fry anything.  I knew a girl when I was young who was terribly burned as a toddler by frying oil that caught fire.  Now that you and your brother are old enough to remain safely out of the kitchen when told, I decided to try my hand at frying.  Donuts, fried dough (another favorite from Old Orchard Beach), french fries... excuse me while I stop drooling on the keyboard.

Roughly square off four sides of the potatoes.  Doesn't have to be perfect, just makes it easier to make nice rectangular fries.
Cut the fries a little more than 1/4" to 1/3" wide.  These are on the wide side, which makes for a chewier fry, rather than crispy ones, which is what I prefer.

These french fries are so easy I can't believe I never tried making them before.  Probably it is because usually you have to double fry french fries them to get the texture correct, which is just a little too much effort for me.  Once again, America's Test Kitchen came through with a new technique that is easy and as close to fool proof as you can get.  Start with cold oil, bring to a boil, cook.  That's it.  No small batches.   No dropping things in hot oil even once, let alone twice.  So easy.  Supposedly starting with cold oil means the fries absorb less oil, but who knows?  We're eating french fries - I guess we aren't too worried about a little oil.

French Fries 
Adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001/2011

2.5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (do not substitute other potato types - this recipe requires the low starch and higher water content of Yukon Gold potatoes)
6 Cups peanut oil (vegetable oil works, but the taste is best with peanut oil)

1.  Square the potatoes and cut lengthwise into 1/4" to 1/3" strips - be as uniform as possible.  No need to peel the potatoes.
2.  Add to cold oil in large Dutch oven.  Cook over high heat.  Once the oil boils, cook 15 minutes.  Do not stir.  
3. With tongs, gently stir the potatoes, scraping the bottom to release any stuck, and cook 5 to 10 minutes more until crisp and golden.  With tongs, skimmer, or slotted spoon, remove from oil onto paper towels.  Salt and serve immediately.

Don't forget to make the world's best burger with your fries with this AWESOME method.  First, break up the ground beef on a tray and platter and divide into equal size mounds (one pound of ground beef will yield four burgers).  Loosely smoosh (technical culinary term) into 1/2" thick patties.  Do not press into perfect patties, you want these really loose.

See how they are just barely patties? 
Season with salt and pepper, but only if you will be cooking right away.  If you plan to set these in the refrigerator to cook later in the day, hold off on seasoning until you are ready to cook.  

Butter soft hamburger buns.  Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, then toast half the buns.  Remove and toast the other half.  Remove and set aside.

Add 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil to the skillet and turn up the heat to high.  With a spatula, carefully add the patties to the skillet.  If a piece falls off during the move, just press gently back in place.  As the patty cooks it will become more cohesive.  Cook without moving for 3 minutes.  Flip and cook another minute before adding a slice of American cheese (don't get fancy with the cheese, this is a diner-style burger) and cooking an additional minute until the cheese is melted.  Remove and place on buns, top as you like.

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