French fries have been around since the Middle Ages. They are said to have originated in Belgium in the 1600s. Known as pommes frites in France and chips in Great Britain, French fries are immensely popular all over Europe, as well as in America.
Did you know French fries can actually be good for you? If cooked in the right kind of fat, French fries are nourishing, healthy and full of vitamins.
Fats in History
One hundred years ago, liquid vegetable oil was not invented yet. People cooked with lard, tallow, and butter. Cancer and heart attacks were also unknown.
Fats & Oils in the Food Supply: 1890 vs. 1990
(in descending order of market share)
Soybean Oil (70% partially hydrogenated)
Rapeseed Oil, or Canola Oil (usually partially hydrogenated)
(source: Mary Enig, PhD, Know Your Fats)
What’s Wrong With Vegetable Oil?
Vegetable oil is a highly processed modern food. It is refined, bleached, deodorized, hydrogenated, and totally devoid of any nutrients. An empty food — and harmful to boot. (To learn more about why vegetable oil is bad for you, read this article: The Oiling of America.)
Grass-fed Tallow: Rich in Fat Soluble Vitamins
Tallow, on the other hand, is easy to render in your own kitchen from beef fat you can buy from your butcher or farmer. And tallow from grass-fed cows is full of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamin K2, which is instrumental in building bones and teeth.
Who knew that eating French fries could help us prevent cavities and osteoporosis? Now you can tell your children they they can skip the salad, but they must finish all their French fries — so they can grow big and strong. (Source: Beef Tallow: a Good Source of Fat-Soluble Vitamins?)
Tallow: The Traditional Cooking Oil For French Fries
Tallow is also the fat traditionally used for French fries. And many say it is the beef tallow that makes the fries much more flavorful. Did you know McDonald’s made their French fries with beef tallow until 1983?
The taste of a french fry is largely determined by the cooking oil. For decades McDonald’s cooked its french fries in a mixture of about seven percent cottonseed oil and 93 percent beef tallow. The mixture gave the fries their unique flavor — and more saturated beef fat per ounce than a McDonald’s hamburger. Source: Eric Schlosser in The Atlantic.
Actually, in France, they used beef tallow and horse tallow — but it may not be so easy to find horse tallow these days so we’ll stick with beef tallow.
I modified this recipe from the one in The Balthazar Cookbook. It requires that you soak the potatoes in water and double fry them. Both of these steps will help to produce a crispier fry.
Regarding the tallow and possible oil substitutions: I have also made French fries with expeller-pressed coconut oil. However, you can only heat the oil to just below 350 degrees, which is the smoke point of coconut oil — hence, the fries will not be as crisp. You really want to heat the oil to 375 degrees to get the fries crisp. Beef tallow has a very high smoke point — between 400 and 420 degrees. Palm oil would also work, as would lard. I haven’t tried either of those yet.
This recipe also works great with duck fat (although the smoke point for duck fat is 375 degrees — so you want to go a little lower on the heat).
Please note that this recipe is fairly labor intensive. And you can’t really make it ahead of time since fries are best eaten right after they are cooked.
That said, these fries are so delicious, it’s well worth the effort. When I make these French fries, my 2-year-old daughter refuses to eat anything else. At least I know they are good for her!
Beef Tallow French Fries
Deep-fat fryer or a heavy bottomed enamel or stainless steel sauce panor stock pot
If using sauce pan or stock pot, you will need a candy thermometer — the kind that attaches to the side of the pot
Parchment paper, Silpat mat or paper towels
1. Peel the potatoes and cut lengthwise into French fry size (1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in width, and the length of the potato).
I used this super handy-dandy French fry cutter. It is so cool! Made the job a whole lot easier.
2. Cover the potatoes with filtered water and let sit for at least 30 minutes, and as long as overnight (in the fridge). I’ve tried this for as little as an hour and as long as 12 hours — and quite honestly, I couldn’t really taste a difference. I think an hour is sufficient, but you can do it ahead if you like and leave the potatoes soaking in the fridge overnight.
3. Put the beef tallow in a heavy pot or a deep fat fryer. I found this neat deep fat fryer with a glass bowl (the only one I’ve seen without a non-stick bowl made of Teflon).
However, take caution. If you use this particular fryer (called Kaloric), read the directions. Ahem — all of the directions. You have to warm the tallow very slowly — until it is liquid. If you try to heat it up full blast when it is still solid, it will smoke like the dickens and set off your fire alarm. (Yes, this happened to me. Another Bridget-Jones-in-the-kitchen moment.) If using a heavy saucepan or stock pot, attach the thermometer.
4. Dry the potatoes very thoroughly (if they are wet, it’s dangerous — as it can cause the hot oil to pop) with clean dish towels. Line a cookie sheet (preferably one with a lip) with parchment paper, a Silpat, or paper towels.
5. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees (or the lowest setting). Heat the tallow to 370 degrees, and then gently and very carefully, add some of the potatoes. Don’t overcrowd them. Watch for spitting hot oil and make sure there are no children around when you do this.
6. Fry for 3 minutes, then, using the tongs or the basket from the fryer, transfer the fries to the cookie sheet.
7. Wait until the tallow heats up again to 370 degrees, then add another batch of potatoes. Fry for 3 minutes, and continue in this manner until you have done all the potatoes.
8. Now it’s time for the second fry. Bring the tallow to 380 degrees (mine only goes up to 375, so that’s what I did) and then add some of the fries you cooked once. Fry for 3 1/2 minutes this time, then transfer back to the paper- or Silpat-lined cookie sheet.
9. Sprinkle with salt. Don’t be stingy with the salt.
10. Repeat with the rest of the fries.
11. Transfer to warm oven while you finish whatever else you’re cooking (hamburgers, fried chicken, what-have-you).
If you’re just having fries (not such a bad idea), serve immediately. With ketchup. And milkshakes if you’ve got ’em. Ooh — even better — chili and cheese. Yeah, now we’re talking.
Postscript: I reuse my tallow a few times. I’m not sure how many times it’s OK to use it — I figure 3-5 times? If anyone knows, please comment.
Anyway to strain your tallow so you can use it again, after you’re done frying (and eating), let the hot oil cool a bit. Then strain it through coffee filters, paper towels or cheesecloth.