Pressure Cooker French Fries Recipe
Use your pressure cooker (and a secret ingredient) to make quick, delicious french fries that are crispy on the outside, hot and tender on the inside! You can’t fry in most home pressure cookers – instead, partially cook the french fries in your pressure cooker using the secret ingredient (see below), then fry them. The fries cook up crispy, stay crispy, and they’re even delicious at room temperature.
Safety Warning It is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS to attempt to fry in a pressure cooker. Do not do this. Restaurants use expensive specialty equipment called Pressure Fryers, not pressure cookers.
FRYING TIP: Per How to Read a French Fry, your fried foods will be crunchier when you fry them in highly saturated fats (those from animal sources, like lard, bacon grease, beef tallow and chicken fat). I’ve tested this myself, and its absolutely true! Pressure cookers do an excellent job of rendering fat from meat, or, for the ultimate french fry experience, you can purchase Commercially Rendered Duck Fat and make the most decadent french fries you have ever had!
My quest for the perfect french fry began innocently enough, a whim to make french fries, and the sudden impulse that I could use my pressure cooker to improve them. I make great roasted potatoes using my pressure cooker, surely it could help my french fries. So I tried it, and the insides were light, fully cooked and hot, and the french fries seemed to absorb a lot less of the frying oil. It was a definite improvement, but I thought I could improve my results.
I embarked on an obsessive effort, reading through cookbooks on fried foods and potatoes, internet research, watching videos about McDonald’s french fries, and reading detailed explanations of french frying methods, some of which included scientific explanations, microscopic photographs, and caliper measurements of french fry crusts. (Very interesting, but I’m not quite THAT obsessed.) I rejected the method that involved chemicals ordered over the internet – the whole point of making your own french fries is to make them using readily available ingredients and not strange chemical ingredients you’ve never heard of and have no idea what they are. I also rejected the twice fried french fry method, not because it doesn’t work, but for french fries, I don’t want to deal with thermometers, and the mess and work of frying them twice. I wanted to fry them once and eat my french fries!
What followed were many bags of potatoes, and many more batches of fries, changing the variables one at a time, and noting the results. I tried starch coatings, which didn’t produce a crisp crust, but did produce uneven browning and an unpleasant taste. Scrap that urban legend. I tried various pre-soaking methods, none of which improved results. I tried vinegar presoaks and pressure cooking in water with various percentages of white vinegar, and while the latter had interesting effects on maintaining the structure of the potatoes, didn’t do it either. One by one, I had tried and discarded the various different tips I had found. Then one day I caught an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they boiled potatoes in water with baking soda added to supposedly make crispier home fries. Those home fries didn’t look as brown and crispy as mine do, but here was a new lead!
I tried it, and there was slight improvement, but the results were not consistently what I had hoped for. There was one batch that had turned out markedly better, but I couldn’t figure out from my notes what was causing the difference. Fortunately, I have a good friend who is a chemistry professor (every serious cook out there should make friends with a chemist), whom I consulted about my experiments, and who was kind enough to tell me what was going on chemically and that my experiments had revealed a second secret ingredient: salt. Back into the kitchen for more experiments regarding the correct amount of baking soda and salt to be used, and I came up with proportions that work consistently.
WHAT THIS METHOD DOES, AND WHY IT WORKS Pressure cooking the raw french fries does several things. It essentially parboils them (no more raw centers) and if there is salt in the cooking solution, it forces salt water solution into the potatoes, and some of that salt is left inside the potatoes, making them taste nicer (no need for presoaking in salt water). Think of a potato’s structure as a honeycomb, in which there are individual cells made of a polysaccharide called pectin (among other things), and containing starch inside each cell. When a small amount of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, Na+ HCO3-), an alkali, is introduced into the cooking water and heat is applied, this base acts as a catalyst for the chain reaction, “attacking” the pectin cell structure, breaking it open, releasing starch from inside the cell, and as a by-product, creating a second base, sodium acetate (CH3COONa). Sodium acetate is used as a additive in the food industry to improve taste, but in this case, when released, this second base in turn attacks a surrounding pectin cell, releasing another molecule of starch and freeing more sodium acetate. The salt in the cooking water (NaCl) helps keep the second base (sodium acetate) water soluble so it can “attack” further pectin cells. Since the potatoes are so full of pectin cells, most of the reaction takes place on the surface of the french fries, since the bases don’t have to travel far to find another pectin cell to react with. This serves our purposes perfectly, since it’s the released starch at the surface that helps a french fry have a crispy, crunchy exterior.
“SECRET INGREDIENT” TIP: I’ve done a lot of experimentation regarding the relative amounts of water, baking soda and salt in this recipe, and I recommend that you use them in the amounts suggested. Reduce the water, and it’ll evaporate too quickly, reduce the baking soda or the salt and the reaction might be too little or not at all, increase the soda or salt and you might adversely affect the taste. You also want to place the potatoes in the strainer in a single row, so as much of the surface area as possible is exposed for the chemical reaction. If you need to make more than one batch, throw out what’s left of the cooking water (you’ll note its changed color), rinse out the bowl, and re-measure the water, baking soda and salt.
8 – 16 oz. (225g – 450 g) Russet potatoes
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cold water
frying oil, shortening, lard or rendered animal fat
(DO NOT use olive oil)
Electric Pressure Cooker
12″ Silicone Tipped Tongs
Trivet, Stainless Steel Steamer or Silicone Steamer
Good quality oven mitt
Good quality frying pan, cast iron skillet or deep fryer
Metal rack and cookie sheet (or plate/paper towels)
FRENCH FRY TIP: During my internet research, I ran across a newspaper article on french fries which said you should always use potatoes that have been stored at least a couple of weeks, and it mentioned a New York restaurant chef who is so serious about his french fries that during harvest season, he arranges for his supplier to provide him with stored potatoes, rather than fresh. As someone who has actually grown her own potatoes in the past, and tasted freshly dug potatoes, I can tell you there are two reasons for this. When fresh, potatoes contain a lot of sugars, and a lot less starch, which makes them the most delicious fresh grown vegetables I have ever had, but makes them much better as baked potatoes than french fries. During storage, those sugars convert into starches, and its starches that make a good french fry. Additionally, potatoes lose some of their water content during storage. From my own experiments, I would recommend that you use smaller russet potatoes for your french fries, rather than the bigger baking size potatoes – the smaller potatoes seem to lose more of their water content during storage than the larger ones. That extra moisture loss helps make them crispier.
- Prepare your frying supplies in advance. Take a good skillet, with nice high sides, pour oil into it, leaving at least 2″ of pan side above the top of the frying oil. (If deep frying, allow at least 3″ above top of oil.) Place a metal rack over a cookie sheet or skillet to use as a draining rack (or you can use 2 paper towels on a plate, although the draining rack drains oil better and helps keep fries crispy).
- Peel the whole potatoes. (If they need to be cleaned, wipe them clean with a dry paper towel. Do not run the potatoes under water.) Cut potatoes into planks at least ½” wide, then cut the planks into french fries at least ½” thick. What you want are essentially thick steak fries.
- Add 1 cup of cold water, a teaspoon of coarse kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon baking soda to the pressure cooker pot, stirring briefly. Place trivet or steamer rack inside. Place french fries in a single layer on top of the steamer. Cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 2 minutes using QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE. (If you have a standardized stovetop pressure cooker, I would recommend pressure cooking the fries for 1 minute at 15 PSI, and immersing your cooker under cold water as soon as the minute is up.)
- Once pressure has been released, unlock and remove the lid, holding the lid at an angle over the bowl of the pressure cooker to allow any hot water to drop back into the pot, and shielding you from any residual steam. Remove the fries from the pressure cooker as quickly as possible, either individually with your tongs, or if you have a good oven mitt, you can grasp the steamer by its central prong and remove the pressure cooked potatoes all at once. Discard any potatoes that have fallen into the water and become waterlogged.
- If there is any surface water on the cooked fries, dab it gently away with a clean paper towel. Do NOT rinse the potatoes. Do NOT rub them. The surface of the french fries should be starchy and slightly tacky, and if you rub the potatoes too hard, you might remove this starchy layer, and your fries won’t be as good.
- Using medium high heat, heat your frying oil to approximately 350° F (175° C). If you’re shallow frying or don’t have a thermometer, you drop a bread cube into the oil, and if it turns brown within a minute, the oil is ready for frying. Using your tongs, gently place your fries into the cooking oil, taking care not to overcrowd the pan (there should be space between the french fries).
- If you are deep frying the french fries, they should be done in just a couple of minutes. If you are shallow frying the potatoes, do not move them for a couple of minutes – allow a crust to form on the bottom before flipping them to avoid breakage. Cook the french fries until all sides have a gorgeous medium golden brown color.
- When fries are ready, use the tongs to remove them from the oil and place them on the metal draining rack. Lightly sprinkle with salt. French fries are at their best when hot out of the frying oil, but if you are serving kids, you might want to wait a few minutes before serving. (The french fries should still be crispy and delicious even at room temperature.)
- 8 – 16 oz. (225 grams – 450 grams) Russet potatoes
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup cold water
- frying oil, shortening, lard or rendered animal fat (DO NOT use olive oil)
- Prepare your frying equipment in advance. Pour oil in skillet, making sure that the sides of the pan rise at least 2" above the top of the oil. Set up thermometer, if desired. Set up metal draining rack over cookie sheet so that there is at least 1" of airspace underneath the rack (or place 2 paper towels on a plate) to drain the fries.
- Peel the whole potatoes, wiping them with a clean paper towel if needed. (Do NOT get the potatoes wet, either by rinsing or submerging the potatoes in water.) Cut potatoes into thick, steak fry size slices (at least ½ inch in width). Cut a few more fries than you want in case of breakage.
- Add 1 cup of cold water, 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to pressure cooker bowl. Stir briefly. Add trivet or vegetable steamer. Place french fries in steamer, in a single layer. (If you need to make more french fries, make multiple batches, replacing the water, salt and baking soda for each batch.) Pressure cook on HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 2 minutes using QUICK RELEASE. For those with stove top pressure cookers, which reach higher pressure than most electric models, I’d try 1 minute at whichever pressure setting on your machine is closest to 10 PSI and immerse your pressure cooker under cold running water as soon as the minute is up.)
- Once pressure is released, carefully remove the fries with tongs. If you have a good oven mitt, you can remove the fries all at once by grasping the central prong and removing the vegetable steamer and fries together. Discard any pieces that fell into the water and became waterlogged. Be prepared to start frying as soon as you can, the hotter the fries are when they reach the oil, the better they will be.
- There may be some moisture on the outside of the potatoes, and you should gently dab away a little of the surface moisture with a paper towel to prevent splattering. Aside from the moisture, the potatoes should have a starchy, somewhat sticky feel on their surface. DO NOT rinse the fries, or wipe them, just dab away some of the water, if your do too much, you'll lose that starchy, sticky surface, and your fries won't be as good.
- Heat your cooking oil on medium high heat to approximately 350° F (175° C). If you don't have a thermometer, or you're shallow frying, you can drop a cube of bread into the oil and when it turns golden brown in about a minute, the oil is hot enough. With tongs, gently add the french fries to the skillet, taking care not to overcrowd the pan (there should be space between the fries).
- If you are using a deep fryer, the fries should be done in just a couple of minutes. If you are pan frying, to avoid breakage, allow the bottom side of the fries to develop a nice light golden color before attempting to turn them over. Fry until all sides have a gorgeous medium golden brown color.
- Remove the french fries to drain on your metal rack or plate lined with paper towels. While still hot, sprinkle either with coarse kosher salt or salt from a sea salt grinder. If you are serving kids, you might want to wait a minute or two before serving. The french fries are best when hot, but they should still be pretty crisp and delicious even at room temperature. Enjoy!