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how to overcome the fear of frying, with cold oil potato chips

chips-2 chips-4

When I was in Ireland earlier in the year, I met some wonderful characters. Such warm, generous people who know how to have a good time.

Someone who really captured my imagination was a guy called Socaí (prounounced socky). A guy who loves his food so much that he gives every meal he eats a score out of ten. Of course when I heard about this I was secretly hoping that when I got a chance to cook for Socaí, I’d be able to score a perfect ten. Or at least give it a shot.

But later I found that the rules weren’t that simple. For a meal to get a perfect score it needed to include chips. Apparently, in the eyes of Socaí, without fries he couldn’t award a ten, no matter how delicious the food.

My heart sank a little when I heard this. But I soon reconciled myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to claim number one spot. You see, I have a fear of frying.

It’s a fear that’s been with me all of my cooking life. And something that I’ve been comfortable with. I mean I can poach, bake, BBQ or saute like the best of them. And I do the odd patch of shallow frying, but for me the deep-end of the frying spectrum has been a no-go zone.

But a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a new technique for deep frying that sounded so simple, the minimalist in me just had to give it a go. A big thankyou to Molly Wizenberg and her podcast Spilled Milk for opening my eyes to the concept of starting to fry potatoes in cold oil. Pure genious.

As the oil heats up the potatoes cook gently, giving the centre time to get all lovely and fluffy without the outside overcooking. No need for thermometers, or par-boiling first, or cooking at two different temperatures. We’re talking good AND simple. Peel and chop the potatoes, throw then in a saucepan with the cold oil, heat and let them cook away.

Now I just need to get back to Ireland so I can compete for my perfect ten, with chips.

how to overcome the fear of frying

start with cold oil
One of the things that really worried me about deep frying in the past was knowing when the oil was at the right temperature to start frying. With the cold oil method there are no doubts.

don’t stress about exact temperatures
The higher the heat, the faster your oil will heat up and the quicker your chips will cook. There’s no need to mess around with thermometers and hitting particular temperatures. Phew.

use an appropriate saucepan
The oil is going to bubble up as it heats. Best to choose a saucepan that is large enough so the potatoes and oil only come about half way up the sides to avoid any risk of overflow.

don’t worry about small batch sizes
With conventional hot oil frying there’s always the worry that if you add too much cold food to the oil it will drop the temperature of the oil and the food will become greasy and soggy. With everything heating at a constant rate from a cold start you eliminate the risk of sudden temperature fluctuations. Yay.

ventilate
My other previous negative experience with frying was stinking out the kitchen. The cold oil method combined with a little ventilation seems to alleviate this.

don’t step away from the kitchen
You’re still going to have a large amount of hot oil on your hands. Best to play it safe and keep at least one eye on things.

drain on a rack
No matter how well you scrunch your paper towel, it always seems to make things go soggier rather than keeping them crisp. The solution is to drain on a rack or cake cooler so the excess oil can drip off your chips but there’s enough air circulating around to keep it just-out-of-the-pan crisp.

reuse your oil
My other objection used to be the large amount of oil required. But really it doesn’t take much effort to strain the clear oil once it is cool and store it in a dedicated bottle for next time you’re in the mood to fry.

chips-3

cold oil potato chips
serves 2 as a snack

I find that floury potatoes are the best chippers because they give that perfect combo of light, crisp outsides and lovely fluffy interior texture. I’ve used both King Edwards and Ottoway Reds with much success. Maris Pipers or good old Sebagos would also be good choices. Interested to hear your favourite chip spuds.

Feel free to cut your chips to your preferred size. The more uniform the size, the more evenly they’ll cook but don’t stress about it too much. Who doesn’t love a few little super crispy bits among their fries.

A word of warning. This recipe is dangerous and it’s got nothing to do with large quantities of hot oil. The danger lies in how easy it is and how delicious the results, next thing you know you’ll be sitting down to a Sunday afternoon ‘snack’ of home made fries. Watch out waistline.

As the chips are cooking it’s best to leave them untouched until they start to crisp up on the outside. Other wise you run the risk of breaking them up – although this may not be the end of the world.

If the rest of the meal isn’t quite ready for your fries, they’ll keep ok for a while on the draining rack in a warm oven.

2 large potatoes
peanut oil for deep frying
sea salt, to serve

Peel the potatoes and cut into your preferred chip shape. I like batons that aren’t too thick but aren’t french-fry-skinny. Pat dry with paper towel and place in a large saucepan.

Cover with oil and place over a medium high to high heat. Bring to an energetic simmer and let them cook away without touching them.

Once the chips start to go a little brown, you can give them a stir to remove any stuck to the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until they’re a good chip colour.

Scoop out with a slotted spoon and drain briefly on a rack or cake cooler above a tray of paper towel.

Sprinkle generously with salt and eat asap.

chips

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I’m curious to know how the cold oil method would work with other food. Thinking that it will only be suitable for things like potato that need a fair bit of cooking in the middle and that aren’t very porous. You don’t want the food to soak up the cold oil in the initial frying phases. Watch this space.

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Up to number 19 on the books I’ve read this year. Have updated my now reading list.

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{ 50 comments… add one }

  • barbara 10 June, 2010, 6:04 pm

    This could be right for me. I have a fear of deep frying too.

  • Chanel 10 June, 2010, 6:16 pm

    Even though I have a deep fryer I have never used it also to said fear – I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this cold-fry technique! I have to try it as my husband is a chip fiend

  • Carol S 10 June, 2010, 6:22 pm

    I have a fear of frying too! And like you, I can cook my face off with every other technique… Might just try the cold oil trick though. Thanks!

  • Jarkko Laine 10 June, 2010, 7:33 pm

    Sounds easy, and looks great! I think I’ll make some fries for the family this weekend, maybe with hamburgers… Thanks for the tip!

  • Alex 10 June, 2010, 8:03 pm

    I really should not check this blog before lunchtime. I think the effect is the same as shopping on an empty stomach. Beautiful photos of chips by the way.

  • Belinda 10 June, 2010, 8:24 pm

    Thank you.. i cant wait to try this. My chips always turn out soggy so im up for this challenge this weekend!

  • Heather(eatwelleatgreen) 10 June, 2010, 8:27 pm

    You may just have changed my life. The photos look amazing. How often can you reuse the oil I wonder, more than once?

  • WP 10 June, 2010, 8:59 pm

    Wow, never heard of cold oil frying before. Yours look so good, I agree that it’s dangerous…I’m already thinking of trying this one day! :P

  • Mark @ Cafe Campana 10 June, 2010, 9:48 pm

    I am a bit scared of hot oil too. I also am to chicken to make caramel. I am surprised that the potato doesn’t soak up too much oil like a sponge. Well I think it is worth a go.

  • Johanna GGG 10 June, 2010, 11:09 pm

    they sound good though I have always believed a fear of deep frying (which I share with you) is healthy in more ways than one – I knew an Irishman a few years ago who actually burnt down his kitchen while frying chips

  • Lisa (bakebikeblog) 11 June, 2010, 8:02 am

    Thankyou for sharing this post! I too have a fear of frying – but will have to try this method :)

  • Matt 11 June, 2010, 8:09 am

    Everything I’ve heard about deep frying points to specific temperature to avoid soggy results, but even when I’ve made fries the traditional way I never bothered watching the temperature, so perhaps it’s not a big deal? I can’t believe the potatoes don’t soak up too much oil when cold, but I’ll find out as soon as I try it!

  • jules 11 June, 2010, 1:03 pm

    yay! glad to hear i’m not the only one inflicted with the frying phobia – thanks guys

    matt
    I know I was skeptical about the potatoes soaking up oil as well but when you think about it a cold potato is pretty solid and I think the starchy grains are more water loving that oil attracters. let me know how you get on.

    johanna
    too funny that you actually know an irishman who burnt down his kitchen – if only we could have told him about this method!

    thanks alex – and thanks for buying a copy of my barcelona book – hope you have a wonderful trip

    jarkko
    hamburgers would be brilliant with these – I’m planning to try some battered fish one day but frying 2 things in the one kitchen is still a little daunting.

  • Claire 11 June, 2010, 10:23 pm

    Oh dear – I really don’t need chips to be more feasible.. potatoes will be my downfall (if by downfall I mean an inability to fit into my jeans..). They look delicious!!! Do you think this would also work with thin slices of beetroot/sweet potato to make crisps? I’ve never dared make my own for the same dislike of deep frying!

  • Memoria 12 June, 2010, 5:59 pm

    I saw a similar technique on America’s Test Kitchen this past weekend. Your fries look perfect.

  • SueH 12 June, 2010, 7:53 pm

    I saw this method awhile back on “The Cook and The Chef” (Aust. TV) – Simon the chef said they always used this method in his restaurant. Haven’t tried it but certainly will now!

  • Daniel@CocinaSavant 12 June, 2010, 10:42 pm

    Awesome idea. I have never heard about it but my wife will be thrilled. She is in the wary deep frying camp like yourself. These look absolutely splendid though.

  • Yenta Mary 13 June, 2010, 9:53 pm

    Good morning! Found you via “All Home Cooking All the Time,” and now following … :) Gotta try the cold frying technique!

    foodfloozie.blogspot.com

  • Colleen 14 June, 2010, 3:40 pm

    You are right about not using this method for other kinds of food. If you tried this with crumbed chicken or battered fish you would just end up with a very greasy mess. Those items require the oil to be quite hot so it fies the coating quickly before too much oil can soak into the surface.

  • Ross brennan 15 June, 2010, 6:56 am

    That recipe helped us survive the great Irish famine of 1847. Hooray for chips!

  • betty 17 June, 2010, 11:09 am

    oh wow these look great!
    but i am not a fan of using oil in large quantitys.. prefer to get my hot chips from an awesome tuck shop 5 minutes away :)

  • Simon Food Favourites 21 June, 2010, 4:38 pm

    awesome. i’ve never thought of cooking with cold oil but if it works then i’ll definitely give it a go. i’ve yet to acheive the perfect chip at home :-( but this might be the answer to my prays :-)

  • Jarkko Laine 26 June, 2010, 6:29 pm

    We finally tried this yesterday and it turned out great! Definitely something I’ll make again :)

  • nycandre 1 July, 2010, 9:32 pm

    Reading it, sounds fine. I used to do it the “right” way from a French book.
    As I am really into simple cooking nowadays it may be a while before I try this, but have some serious doubts as to whether you can really get that classic crispyness.
    The classic method as I recall it is to fry in 2 steps, and to let the cooked fries cool off *before* the final frying.
    Knowing how picky and exacting the French are, I am sure we lose something using the simpler method, and my guess is that extra crispiness. But I’d really like to hear that confirmed by an active cook (not afraid of frying pots) ;-)

  • jules 2 July, 2010, 7:17 am

    nycandre
    I was sceptical before I tried it as well. I’ve been using the cold oil method regularly for the last month or so and to be honest I’m not noticing a loss of crispness.

    The reason for the french method is that the first frying at the lower temp allows the potato to cook through and go all fluffy and then the second frying at the higher temp is purely for browning and crispness. If you just fried them at the lower temp they would cook though and go mushy without browning. And if you just fried at the higher temp (even in 2 batches) the outside would brown before the middles had a chance to cook through. So with the cold oil method and the oil always changing / increasing in temperature you’re giving the chips the chance to cook through and then finishing off with browning at the end higher temp.

    Hope that convinces you to at least try. Very impressed that you’re not afraid of frying pots. I’m definitely getting less so the more I do it.

    betty
    if you have a reliable outside resource – definitely go for it.

    ross
    of course it was chips that kept you irish alive – love it

    sueh
    I missed this on the cook and the chef – love their work and not surprised maggie and simon are onto this before me ;)

  • Merlin 14 July, 2010, 5:51 pm

    Hi,
    is this with a gas stove, or an electric element?
    It seems to me that there must be a big difference between the two – a gas flame would get the oil hot a lot quicker, so that must affect the cooking process? I would worry that an electric stove would be too slow, and keep the chips too long in that sub-optimal temp zone…

  • jules 15 July, 2010, 10:53 am

    hey merlin
    I’ve actually cooked it on both gas an electric and both worked fine. It seems to be a pretty forgiving process. I was a bit concerned as you were but have had success both ways

  • Jean 16 July, 2010, 9:18 am

    I’ve seen in on UK shows… Is this the same thing as “poaching” in oil?

    I was astounded when I saw it the first time.

    I’ve started using a water bath for some of my cooking (sealed in heat proof plastic and poached) and that turns out amazingly moist and tender meat that I then flip onto the BBQ or a high oven to brown. A few moments and viola!

  • Sarah 23 July, 2010, 5:11 pm

    Super method. It’s definitely an interesting way to overcome the fear of frying. I just wish I could fry without smelling of oil after it. Urgh. Got any solutions for that? ;)

  • femmeknitzi 12 August, 2010, 10:16 pm

    Wow! This was an AMAZING technique! It worked perfectly. I’ve never succeeded in making fries this good without a Fry Daddy. I have an electric stove and I used butter golds (they’re the only type of potato I can get at my store that aren’t giant baking potatoes). What a success!

  • Re 2 November, 2010, 7:47 pm

    This technique is so intriguing! Unfortunately my chips browned well (more brown than in your picture) but never became crispy except on some edges… it was actually rather limp =(

    I wonder what went wrong? I think I followed the recipe to a T… no steps were skipped. Are they supposed to be as crispy as regular chips? My chips were a tad narrower than yours… admittedly I used the nameless dirt covered potatoes from my local store as it was an impulse purchase – perhaps it was too juicy a potato? Any thoughts? I would love to try again!

  • jules 2 November, 2010, 7:55 pm

    Re
    I’m thinking it was your spuds – not all potatoes were created equally good for chips! Also, it’s really important to pat them dry before cooking – the excess moisture on the outside can promote browning.
    And my final thought is that if they didn’t get crisp, maybe the heat wasn’t high enough. Hope that helps.
    Jules

  • jim 2 December, 2010, 9:00 pm

    The secret to really good fries is to braise the chips first.

    Drop them into boiling water for 14 1/2 minutes. (put 1 tbl of vinegar per gallon of water in first. Keeps them from falling apart.)

    After removing from the hot water, let them cool. Dry them completely. Freezing them overnight helps too (breaks up the cells). Then cook for a few minutes in 375 degree oil to do the primary cooking, then remove them for a few minutes before dumping them back in for 30-40 seconds to crisp up the outsides.

    The result is a crispy shell with soft potato on the inside.

    I’ve been using this recipe lately and they are fantastic. I found the recipe on the web elsewhere though. Not my creation.

  • jules 3 December, 2010, 7:49 am

    jim
    thanks for sharing your method and Im sure it gives great results but I think you missed the point here…
    the cold oil method is super simple and gives what we’re all after – crispy shell and soft potato. Try it just once – you’ll be amazed ;)

  • KarenM 15 January, 2011, 2:26 pm

    Heya Jules, great cooking technique and I will have to try it. I ususally do my chips in the oven for 45mins and use Red Rascals with the skin on and cut into steak fries. Yummmm!!!

    I also have a fear of deep frying ever since the day I decided to try cooking doughnuts at home and the oil got too hot and burst into flames!!! Thank god for Dads, I was only in my teens and still at home so Dad flicked the off on the exhaust grabbed the lid of the pot, closed the steam vent and slammed it on the saucepan…. with a full glove pot-mit on of course!!

    The other thing I learned at that time was to be careful using the overhead exhaust when frying as the flames were nearly drawn up into it and of course that could have been much worse!

    I’m hoping this tenchnique of yours will allow me start frying again without supervision lol

  • jules 18 January, 2011, 3:43 pm

    Karen
    LOVE your story – there’s definitely a good reason behind the fear of frying.

    You’ll still need to keep an eye on them but I haven’t had any dangerous incidents with this technique

  • sarahworldcook 31 January, 2011, 12:32 pm

    I enjoyed your recipe and the other comments. I will have to give it a try. I have been disappointed with my own frying results with french fries. Thanks.
    homestyleworldcook.blogspot.com

  • Sarah 1 February, 2011, 12:52 pm

    Wow! I tried these for dinner tonight (poutine style: topped with cheese curds and gravy). I am completely blown away by this method. Easier than baking (I actually ran across this method when I was looking up baking temps) and way easier than traditional frying methods. They turned out perfectly cooked and crispy (and retained their crispness better than most restaurant fries). Now I can’t wait to make them again! Thanks for sharing this great recipe.

  • bullwinkle 25 July, 2011, 6:49 am

    I sooo did not need to know this… fortunately, it is too hot to try in the immediate future. Hopefully I will forget about it ;)

  • jules 29 July, 2011, 6:26 pm

    sarah
    so glad you liked them!

    bullwinkle
    yes they’re kinda dangerous.. but so good

  • Carol 18 September, 2011, 7:53 pm

    The best way to ensure you don’t get a stinky oil smell while frying is to burn a candle above the stove (on a shelf or on the rangehood). It works the same as burning a candle while smoking a cigarette, the candle flame seems to “burn off” the oil smell. Must be a basic white candle, not beeswax or scented.

    And I am going to make chops this way as well, how awesome!! (also scared of frying but will deep fry poppadums and prawn crackers on the odd occasion because they’re so quick!)

  • Jennifer 30 September, 2011, 11:46 pm

    No fear of frying, just the clean-up. Once your oil is hot try tossing in a veggie peeler sliced potato into the mix- fresh crisps anyone?

  • Paula 28 March, 2012, 5:25 am

    I’m another that has been scared of deep frying, can’t wait to try this. Do you think it will work well with yams?

    Another reason I’ve avoided frying is what seems like a waste of oil. You mentioned you can strain and save it, but how long does it keep and how many times can you reuse it?

    • jules 28 March, 2012, 8:23 am

      Hi Paula
      I haven’t tried it with yams but it should work in theory. Let me know if you do give it a go.
      I usually reuse the oil 2-3 times but after that it gets a bit manky.

  • kylie 3 July, 2012, 9:56 pm

    I might try this tonight, it shoulf get my 3 yr old a bit more excited about dinner…

  • Mick 19 November, 2012, 9:44 pm

    Kennebec, the king of potatoes. Great chips or on the bbq

    • jules 26 November, 2012, 3:30 pm

      I havent tried Kennebecs Mick
      Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Jo 6 January, 2013, 3:35 am

    I just tried these tonight and they worked perfectly! Crispy and perfectly cooked! I never knew that cooking chips could be so easy… which is probably a bit dangerous!
    I’ve kept the oil – is it ok to re-use?

    • jules 9 January, 2013, 5:00 pm

      I know it is a bit dangerous Jo!
      I usually reuse the oil once or twice but after that it gets a bit manky

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