Sunday, May 26, 2024 May 26, 2024
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Restaurant Reviews

French Fry-Day: Potato Education Edition

Dr. Potato, an expert at the Idaho Potato Commission, teaches us the science behind great fries.
Yes, even potatoes need doctors. Photo courtesy of Idaho Potato Commission

A few days ago, I received an email from Don Odiorne, the vice president of foodservice for the Idaho Potato Commission. Don Odiorne is the name typed on his birth certificate, but to thousands of potato nerds and industry professionals, Odiorne is known as Dr. Potato.

Odiorne has created a magnificent website filled with recipes, facts, tips, and a fascinating blog. Dr. Potato has been following French Fry-Day here on SideDish and he admits to being a fan of the series.

“Keep posting these, I love to read about your adventures in exploring the ultimate crispy French fry, “ Dr. Potato said in an email. “I do a post on potato preparation and tips as part of my responsibilities with the Idaho Potato Commission and by far the most often asked questions from foodservice operators revolve around fresh cut fries.”

Last Friday I reviewed the hand-cut fries at Rodeo Goat. Dr. Potato sent me a few observations after he’d read the story. Roll up your sleeves and let’s get down to business of perfect French fries.

I typed: “Each order contained a wide variety of sizes ranging from short, dark brown crispy nubs to long, firm soldiers that stayed firm when held horizontally.”

Dr. Potato remarked: The different sizes of fry strips is usually due to the operator ordering a more economically priced No. 2 potato rather than a more evenly sized carton count No. 1 potato. They both taste the same but No. 2 potatoes can include various sizes. Right now, Five Guys uses a Standard Grade (like a No. 2 but with less defects) 6 ounce and above which results in some long and less short fries. Another reason most operators don’t think about, especially in high volume locations, is that they don’t change the French fry cutter blades often enough. Dull blades rip the potatoes and each fracture can break the longer strips into shorter ones when frying. I love the extra crispy bits, sometimes this occurs because the smaller bits escape the fry basket and get extra cooking time before being skimmed off the oil to be placed in an order.

I typed: “I like to firm fries that I refer to as soldiers. They feel solid as a pencil between your fingers and, if you must, stand up to a swish through ketchup or aioli.”

Dr. Potato typed: Long, firm soldiers are usually only possible if the potatoes are blanched or twice fried, such as the F & B Director [Gerald Silva at Rodeo Goat] described. A few chains (In-N-Out) don’t blanch, but the main reason to blanch or par fry is to get a more consistent fry color and crispness. Oil replaces the water each time the potatoes are fried. Russets typically are 80 percent water, the first fry blanch knocks it down to 55 percent, the second down to 35 percent or less, resulting in a less soggy fry.

Testing sugar levels in potatoes is important. Photo courtesy of Idaho Potato Commission.

I quoted Rodeo Goat’s F&B director Gerald Silva: “We buy from specific farmers so that we can keep the same sugar content in the potatoes.”

Dr. Potato typed: This is somewhat helpful, in that growers who know their potatoes are going to be used for fresh or frozen fries don’t want to store the potatoes too cold. However, the distribution system from a storage shed to a Sysco to a truck making deliveries to the restaurant storage in the kitchen can change the temps and often they are stored too cold. The starch (or solids) in a potato starts to turn to sugar when stored below 40 degrees F. Ideal for fresh fries is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Chilled potatoes will caramelize or turn darker brown on the outside before the insides are fully cooked, which can result in great looking fries that are undercooked or limp. The term “curing” usually refers to gradually warming up the raw potato temps so they will fry more evenly in color and crispness.

Dr. Potato ended his note by saying, “I know this is probably more minutia about potatoes than you ever would want, but there’s more to find at this link and here is a section just on French fries.”

To that I say, “No, Dr. Potato. Take us down the dark rabbit hole lined with French fry minutia.

Got a question? Leave it below and I’ll sent it to him along with mine. Stay tuned for another report from our new friend in Idaho.