Extra-Virgin Olive Oil For French Fries? Yes!
“Let’s make aïoli,” someone said during a planning session for an extra-virgin olive oil tasting and lunch to celebrate the publication of my book. “If we’re making aïoli we need French fries,” said another planner. “If we’re making French fries, let’s fry them in extra-virgin olive oil,” I chimed in.
There is a popular misconception that extra-virgin olive oil cannot be heated to the temperatures needed to deep fry. Certainly 450 degrees Fahrenheit is too hot for extra-virgin olive oil, but at 380 degrees, maybe a bit higher, the oil will not smoke, which indicates a breakdown of its components. The smoke point depends on the initial free fatty acid content of the fat. Refined oils that have been stripped of their fatty acids are what most people use for deep frying. But extra-virgin olive oil has a very low fatty acid component, making it eminently suitable.
We made a test batch a week before the event using a deep fryer mounted flush with the counter and intended for home use. The Yukon Gold potatoes had been cut and soaked for several hours in cold water in the refrigerator. We patted them dry as the oil heated to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Then we put them in a basket and lowered them into the oil. In short time they began to color and become firm. We took them out, drained them, and let them cool. Then we raised the thermostat on the fryer to 375 degrees and waited until the light went out, telling us the oil was hot enough. Back into the fryer went the potatoes, this time until they were brown and firm. But after cooling, they got limper than we liked. They were delicious, but lacked that perfect combination of crisp outside and yielding centers that are the hallmark of fabulous fries.
We decided on different potatoes, Russets instead of Yukon Golds, and a two-stage soak, one with the potatoes peeled, the second with them cut into classic fry shape.
Timing was perfect the day of the event. As I was concluding the extra-virgin olive oil tasting the kitchen staff was putting final touches on the dishes. When everyone was seated, the staff passed hot-from-the fryer fries. They were glorious, with a cleaner taste than any fried potato I have ever had.
See Amanda Hesser’s article in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/05/dining/deep-secrets-making-perfect-fry-potato-moment-often-soggy-disappointment-time.html) for more details about making French fries. Make two substitutions: use extra-virgin olive oil (certainly not your most expensive!) instead of peanut oil and serve the fries with aïoli instead of lemon mayonnaise.