Oven-baked French fries can be so tricky to get right, especially when what we’re most familiar with are the ones that are double-fried in vats of hot oil. They’re hard to replicate without, well, a vat of hot oil. In the oven, there’s a tendency for them to not entirely transition from roasted potato to French fry—the texture remains too starchy, the structure a little too stiff. Luckily there are a couple ways to work around this, and I’ll outline them below.
But surely you’ve discovered, as I have, from eating at bistros and the like, that good French fries taste like potatoes—and in a good way! (I’m from Idaho and I believe the disclaimer to be necessary. There are many times when the flavor of a potato isn’t exactly something I’d want to highlight. For example, in a baked potato: I’d be perfectly happy never eating another baked potato again, ever.) With good fries, one is reminded of the original vegetable. This might also be true of good potato chips, but I never said French fries, even oven baked ones, were health food.
The most important thing is to cook them in a hot oven, and I find 450° to be the right temperature. But to reinforce the heat, I like to preheat the baking sheet, so that when the cut potatoes are added to it, they sizzle and immediately start forming a crispy exterior. The other important thing is to wash off as much starch as you can. I do this by soaking the cut potatoes in cold water for about 15 minutes, draining them, and then rinsing again. This prevents the fries from having a cotton-ey, starchy texture. Cutting them on the skinnier side—aiming for 1/4-inch thick matchsticks—also leads to the kind of fry I want. And as far as dipping sauces go, my newest favorite is ketchup mixed with a bit of Sambal Oelek chili paste—about a teaspoon per 1/4 cup of ketchup, but chutney mixed with mustard might be worth trying, too.
(And sorry for doubling up on side dishes—the next recipe will be something hearty, I promise.)
Perfect Baked French Fries
4 medium, shapely Russet potatoes, scrubbed clean
3 tablespoons neutral, high-smoke-point oil, such as grapeseed, canola, peanut, or vegetable oil
1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into 1/4-inch thick matchsticks: (1) Make a slice along the length of the potato so that it will stand flat on a cutting board; (2) With the potato sitting flat, carefully slice it into broad, 1/4-inch thick discs; (3) Arrange 2 or 3 discs on top of each other and slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch matchsticks. (See photos above.) Place the cut fries into a bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand for at least 15 minutes, as the oven preheats.
3. Drain the potatoes, then cover with cold water once more and drain thoroughly. Layer the baking sheet with a tea towel or a few layers of paper towels, then spread the drained potatoes on top in a single layer. Gently blot the cut fries dry, aiming to soak up as much water as possible. Dry out the mixing bowl the fries had been in and then return them to it. Toss with the oil and several big pinches of salt.
4. Place the baking sheet in the oven for about 5 minutes.
5. With mitted hands, remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and place it on a trivet or a heat-safe workspace. Pour a splash of oil on it, distributing it haphazardly by tilting the baking sheet back and forth. Add the fries (stand back; it will sizzle), and quickly arrange in a single layer. Transfer to the oven and bake until crisp and browned, about 40 minutes, checking every 15 minutes to toss them with a spatula. Before serving, add additional salt. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.