HOWDY! I'm back from my sabbatical to resume your fry education, dear readers. Over the last few months I have tried many places, and the national trend seems to be for "natural" style fries. This was probably precipitated by the newer uber-burger chains (Five Guys, Shake Shack, etc.) making a big deal out of showing off real potatoes in their lobbies.
Hey, I'm all for fresh cut fries if they're cooked correctly, but the sad fact is that they usually aren't. And my buddy Chef Matt Boring is about to educate you why. This is Chef Matt. When it comes to the science of fries, he is my go-to guy. I'm not gonna list his CV, but you should google him.
A while back we got together and he showed me how you make fries. Specifically, he made his special truffle-Parmesan fries. YUM.
A day or so before he was ready to cook, he cut the fries and soaked them in water overnight. Then he drained the excess starchy water that had accumulated. Next he dried and then dumped the fries into a fryer with oil at 325 degrees. This is called "blanching"and it's a super-important part of the process. During the blanching, oil gets into the fries and builds a layer of starch cells around the outside of the fry. This outer layer protects the fry as it is fried again at a higher temperature so they cook through. After a few minutes of blanching, he rested them for a few minutes, and then fried them in oil that's around 400 degrees.
Then he bounced the fries around in a bowl with some salt, truffle oil, and some green stuff and voila!
THEY. WERE. SO. GOOD.
Here's the thing: most restaurants (and certainly burger chains) don't have the space, the time, or the craps to give to have two different fryers going. That's why the "natural" fries at most of these places are horribly inconsistent in texture, crispness, done-ness, and taste. I have always maintained that whether they are frozen to begin with or fresh they have to be properly prepared.
So the next time you're at a restaurant that has fresh cut fries ask your server if the kitchen double cooks them. My guess is the answer will be no.