Q. I love the choice we made several years ago to serve fresh-cut Idaho fries, but I’d like to know how we can make them more consistent? It seems like we are getting some batches that fry up perfectly and the next batch is dark.
A. Hand-cut fries are a great selling feature and very popular with customers. Here are several tips for making the best possible hand-cut fries:
It’s always hard to diagnose what is happening a long distance away when fresh cut fries are being used as an everyday signature item. It’s very difficult to maintain consistency year-round as potatoes can come from a number of different fields, which vary in soil type, are planted and harvested at different times, and are subject to different weather conditions. Nearly twenty years ago, only one variety was being used nearly exclusively: the Russet Burbank. My predecessor spent a week at multiple Houston restaurants before making our fresh frying recommendations for all chains based on what she saw happening. What she found was that the Russet Burbank, when stored properly, had less of a tendency to accumulate sugars. The Burbank is hard to grow because changes in climate or water will result in multiple knobs or funny-shaped potatoes. When I started on the Commission 23 years ago, this variety accounted for 94% of all the potatoes Idaho grew. Many other states also grew more Russet Burbanks than any other variety. Now this variety is almost non-existent in Colorado or substantially reduced (Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon) but still about 50% of the fresh potato production in Idaho. It still is the preferred variety by a number of chains specializing in fresh-cut fries.
Some have success with our Norkotah Russet variety, which is much improved over the first generations in having a higher average solids and storing better for extended usage.
The yellow flesh varieties will fry up very good also, but I don’t have much hands-on experience with their variations so I can’t help much with the analysis.
There are some specific things that can help… many of these tips are mentioned at the Dr. Potato blog in the foodservice section of www.idahopotato.com and various searchable blogs such as http://foodserviceblog.idahopotato.com/back-to-school-basics-with-fresh-cut-fries/. We have a lot of postings since 2009 on fries. Also, in the pdf Foodservice toolkit: http://foodservice.idahopotato.com/downloads/Foodservice-Toolkit.pdf are step by step basics.
Here is what I would start on…
At the distributor location… Make sure they put the potatoes at the front of the refrigeration area, near the plastic sheets that are used to drive thru the entrance, this is usually the warmest part of the warehouse. Keep them as low as possible as there is less circulation of air at the top of the shelving and more towards ground level. If you have the capability to pre-stage a weeks worth of spuds that is perfect. Docks may not be ideal (so many are refrigerated and cold now). Warmer temps can help re-condition the potatoes. Above 40° F the starch is turning to sugar on russets.
At the restaurant… Bring in enough to rotate first-in first-out. This is what Outback Steakhouse did for years with great sucess. It is what Five Guys does. Store at room temps, but not too hot so not next to the fryers or ovens as they will sprout and the skin will wrinkle as the potatoes lose moisture. Check the solids, check the sugars (see Dr. Potato blogs on both).
Cut and wash the potatoes until the water runs clear. This helps rid them of any excess starch or sugar. Lower the temps for blanching by at least 10-15 degrees and just blanch longer.