March 18, 2023
I am obsessed with French Fries. I remember the moment it began way back in the 80s growing up across the street from the largest mall in the country, the King of Prussia Mall. Anyone who knows anything about the Philadelphia area knows about 'my' mall. I call it that because we literally moved in as they broke ground. Our house was so close that the easiest way to get there was to literally walk - before anyone I knew had a driver's license. I was there for the grand opening and still have all the vials of perfume samples I collected (and never used) over the span of that opening week. The mall has gone through so many changes, but the one I remember affected my teen years the most was when they put in the food court in the 'new mall' - what we called the new construction at the time. It was a high schoolers' dream with different vendors to choose from in this semi circle that surrounded an eating area of tables and chairs. It was the first time we'd ever seen a Chick fil-A which only gained popularity from the samples they would give out day in and day out. This was the spot that I first discovered boardwalk fries. Thick, salty fried sticks of potatoes would be stuffed into oversized brown cardboard cups that we lived to eat. That we would clamor to eat. That we would ruin our appetites for - that we would bring all of our friends and cousins visiting from overseas like England and India to try. Boardwalk fries were my jam. They were what I would spend all of my pocket change on and they cemented my obsession for the french fry.
As I got older, reality set in. Sure, fries are delicious, but that habit was not serving me well, especially after two kids and a busy reporting career. Do I still need to be indulging in fries? Could I and still hit my fitness goals? For a time the answer was 'no' until I discovered first baking them and then air frying.
Here's the trick. Always take the time to first submerge your cut potatoes in an ice bath for at least 30 minutes. This draws out the starch and creates a crispier french fry. I now cut up a ton of potatoes and actually submerge them in water in a large glass container kept in the fridge to use whenever I need a french fry fix. Literally, they will last submerged without browning in the fridge for weeks. It's crazy. Then, when I want to quickly make up a batch, I will take out a handful, wrap them in a dish towel to dry them off, and on that same towel lightly spray them with oil, smack them with some spices, and stick them in my air fryer. It's literally as simple as that. This one trick has eliminated our need to buy anything frozen for a quick weekend treat with burgers.
For the best Indian-spiced fries? Just add 1/2 teaspoon of our chaat masala instead of ground black pepper in the recipe below. Scroll to the bottom for oven-baking tips. For a twist serve these with our Tamarind Chutney.
Air Fryer: No-Fry Salt and Pepper French Fries
3 large russet potatoes with skin, washed and scrubbed
1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
½ teaspoon salt plus a large pinch, divided
½ teaspoon ground black pepper or chaat masala
1. Slice the potatoes (keep the skin) into ¼-inch thick and 4-inch-long slices. You won’t even notice the skin later and it adds fiber and nutrients. The key is to scrub the potatoes clean first. I use water and a clean scrub or vegetable brush.
2. Place the potato slices in a large bowl filled with water and ice and soak them for at least 30 minutes. This step is key in pulling the starch from your potatoes and helping them crisp up later. Not ready to cook your fries yet? Just prep them, submerge them in ice water, and store in covered containers in the fridge until you are ready to use them. I always store them sliced to pull out whenever we want fries for dinner, or I need a comfort-food snack. They will not brown if they are submerged in water – I’ve kept them this way for up to a week at a time.
3. When ready to cook, drain the potatoes, pat them until completely dry, and place them in a roomy bowl. Add the oil, ½ teaspoon of salt, and black pepper. Gently toss until all the pieces are evenly coated.
4. Place the fries in the air fryer basket and cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes until they are golden brown and beautifully crispy. It’s important to keep them in one layer for even cooking. I have a smaller basket that can only fit up to 20 fries at a time. Just make them in batches for best results. Some recipes call to shake the basket halfway through, but I’ve made them without shaking and they were fine. You can also preheat your air fryer if you prefer.
5. Transfer the fries to a tray, hit them with a large pinch of salt and serve them immediately with ketchup or even our delicious Tamarind Chutney.
Oven-Baked: Making these in the oven? Position your oven rack to the second-from-top position and preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the potato slices on a tray and bake them for 30 minutes, increase the heat to 500 degrees F and cook for another 7 minutes to crisp up. No need to flip.
Here's how I store them:
Watch me make them here.
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