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How to Make Great Home Fries

Stashed in: Good Eats!, Recipes!, Vinegar!

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Extra oil, extra salt?

Boil first, vinegar.

Vinegar is key to so many good things!

I start by boiling the new potatoes in water that's been spiked with vinegar and salt. Boiling potatoes before frying them is an essential step to getting maximum crispness. Boiling causes starch granules in the potatoes to swell and burst. When the potatoes are subsequently drained and slightly cooled, that gelatinized starch retrogrades and forms a crystalline structure.* That new structure is far more conducive to dehydration and crisping than the raw potatoes, which allows you to build up a significant crisp layer as you fry them. The same process is what makes double-fried French fries retain their crunch, and is the secret to ultra-crispy roast potatoes.

* This is the exact same effect that makes bread go stale.

Why the vinegar and salt? Well, salt is easy—that adds flavor. Vinegar I add for its chemical effects. Like all plant cells, potato cells are held together with pectin, a sort of carbohydrate glue. Pectin starts to break down at 183°F, and the potatoes start to soften. Let them cook for toolong and they soften to the point of turning mushy or crumbly. On the other hand, don't cook them long enough and you won't burst enough starch granules, preventing the potatoes from crisping properly. Vinegar will actually affect the rate at which pectin breaks down, slowing it down and vastly increasing the window of time between perfectly cooked potatoes and overcooked potatoes. It's not totally necessary, but it makes things easier.

Once the potatoes are boiled and tender, I let them cool slightly and cut them into quarters before frying them in a skillet.

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