I can say with 99.7% certainty that every home cook, at some point or another in their amateur career, has made some form of an oven baked french fry. And why the hell not? Deep frying potatoes arguably isn't an activity we have time to indulge in on a daily basis, even if fries make up the backbone of our American diet. Instead, many cooks, myself included, whip out the sheet pan and blast on the oven.
A simple query on FoodGawker comes up with 774 results for baked french fries, hopefully implying that the art of convenient, questionably healthier potatoes has been generally well researched and mastered right? Disappointingly, most of the examples seen on the web, the tv, and even out of my home oven a lot of the times are potatoes that are limp and soggy, as if in dire need of a dose of Viagra.
But then I remembered The Food Lab's wonderful master's thesis on making the perfect french fries, which recommends blanching the potatoes in water spiked with vinegar to properly get rid of the internal starch that causes most potatoes to burn before they can crisp. Could the same method be applied to the humble baked fry?
Yes. Besides the now empty ten pound sleeve of russet potatoes sitting in my recycle bin, just trust me.
BAKED FRIES THAT DON'T SUCK
russet potatoes, cut into matchsticks
white vinegar, or any other neutral vinegar
sprigs of thyme (optional)
mis en place: potatoes
Fill a pot large enough to hold all your potatoes with water and bring it to a boil. Once it's boiling, spike it with vinegar (a healthy splash - enough where the water gives off a vinegary whiff when you smell it), and season generously with salt (let's say 1 tablespoon per quart of water).
Blanch the potatoes for four to five minutes, and then drain. At this point, they can be stored in the refrigerator until you're ready to fire.
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Lightly oil a large sheet pan with 2-3 tablespoons of oil, and leave it in the oven for five to ten minutes. Toss the blanched fries with more olive oil, and if desired some sprigs of thyme until they have a glossy sheen, and dump them on the hot sheet tray. Bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping them every ten minutes. If you find that the bottoms are burning a bit too quickly before the rest of the sides brown, move the sheet pan up a rack in the oven.
Dump them in a large bowl and toss with salt; serve immediately.