A Fermented French Fry Experiment
I have an almost decade long search on this blog to make really good homemade french fries. I’ve done a homemade trial comparing a bunch of different store-bought and homemade options and more recently I tried Chef Bloomfield’s delicious fry method.
A few months ago I read about a crazy method that a Bon Appetit Best New Restaurant, Al’s Place, uses to make their fries. Essentially they ferment them for a few days in a really salty brine. The finished fries are obviously crispy (like any fry) but word on the street is that they had a really interesting, complex, and addictive taste.
I had to try it to see if it was really worth the work!
A big note: I’ve never been to Al’s Place. I have no doubt that it’s delicious, but I’m not sure that mine turned out like theirs do. I’m sure their version is better because they make them everyday!
Anyway, without further ado, my fermented french fry experiment!
1) Scrub potatoes well and cut into matchsticks.
2) In a large bowl stir together warm water and salt until dissolved. Add potatoes and cabbage leaves. Cover with plastic wrap and store in a cool place for 4-6 days (not the fridge, but a basement or pantry works well).
3) When ready to fry fries, drain fries and heat oil to 325 degrees F. Fry potatoes in batches for five minutes until fries are cooked through, but they won’t get crispy during this fry stage. Remove fries and let drain on a large baking sheet lined with paper towels.
4) When all fries are fried, turn heat up to 375 degrees F. Re-fry fries, in batches, for 2-3 minutes until fries are very crispy.
Drain fries and serve with ketchup or other dips. They shouldn’t need any extra seasoning.
Making the Brine
This is sort of like a pickle and I think they called them pickled fries at Al’s Place, but for some reason I kept called them fermented fries. I think because I like the alliteration!
Anyway, it starts with a really salty brine. It’s no typo. Five tablespoons of kosher salt for 8 cups of water. Depending on your bowl size and stuff you might need to make more of the brine the make sure your fries are submerged.
For the potatoes, I just used russet potatoes and scrubbed them really well. I like to leave the skin on these days. Just chop the potatoes into planks and then matchsticks.
Submerge the fries in the brine and toss in a few Napa Cabbage leaves.
Here’s the story on the Napa cabbage leaves: I made one version without them and one version with them. I think they add a tiny bit of complexity to the brine, BUT the main advantage (in my opinion) is that they help keep the fries submerged in the brine! Otherwise they will want to float to the top.
Waiting is the Hardest Part
Once your fries (and cabbage) are in the brine, cover them with plastic wrap and store them in a cool dry place like a pantry for… wait for it… at least FOUR DAYS. I did five days on mine and they were great.
I wouldn’t go longer than 6-7 days or they might get too funky.
The water is a weird color after a few days. It’s all good. Because the brine is so salty, you don’t really have to worry about bad bacteria or anything.
Frying the Fermented French Fries
When the potatoes are fermented, drain them and let them dry a bit on a paper towel. I didn’t bother rinsing mine off or anything.
If you’ve gone through the trouble of doing all of this and waiting days for french fries, take the extra time to cook them correctly. That means double frying them.
If you have a deep fryer with a temperature control, this is really easy. Just set the temp to a lower 325 degrees F. Then fry the potatoes for about 5 minutes. That will cook them through and give them a little color, but they won’t be really crispy during this step.
Here are my fries after the first fry. I kept them separate to try to tell the difference between cabbage and no cabbage.
The Second Fry
When all your fries are cooked in the lower temp, crank the heat up to 375 degrees F. If you don’t have a deep fryer, this can be a little difficult. You have to use a deep fry thermometer to monitor the temperature of your oil and just control the heat via stovetop. Before I had a fryer, I did this with a thermometer and it’s totally possible but definitely annoying.
The second, hotter fry goes faster. They will just need 2 minutes per batch to get beautifully crispy.
Drain the fries and serve them while hot with whatever condiments you want. Ketchup is good. Homemade mayo would be great.
Because these are in a brine for days, they really don’t need extra salt or anything. They are great right out of the fryer!
I didn’t notice a huge difference in flavor between the cabbage version and the non-cabbage version. The non-cabbage version had some fries that were badly oxidized though because they would float above the brine. That’s why I think a primary purpose of the cabbage leaves is to keep everything submerged! Just my theory!
The Four Day Question
Is it worth it to do this? Tough call… They are definitely really good and not that much extra work. It’s just a matter of planning. I can see how they are great for a restaurant environment because you can just prep fries everyday and cycle through earlier ones. For the home cook though, it’s probably a special occasion thing.
If you’re making fries regularly, I actually think mastering the double fry is a more important step to perfect fry land. Get that down and you can do no wrong. The fermenting step is cool and adds an interesting twist to the fries. Personally, I love fermented stuff so I thought these were great. If I can plan enough, I’ll definitely be making them again!
What do you think? Have you had fermented fries? Worth the work?!