Fried potatoes are one of mankind’s greatest inventions, but deep-frying at home can be as fussy and fretful as clipping a frantic cat’s claws.
I think it’s worth it on occasion, but not everyone does. Enter: the air-fryer. Really a tiny convection oven that blows very hot air around very fast, it takes potato sticks coated in a slick of oil from raw to crisp in 15 minutes flat. No pot of hot oil, no deep-frying thermometer, no stinky kitchen and very little mess.
There are many ways to air-fry potatoes into french fries. After testing both russets and Yukon Golds, I can confidently say russets are the way to go. Their high-starch content and texture produce crispier fries with fluffy insides.
Cutting potatoes into sticks, coating them in a thin layer of oil and salt and then air-frying will produce something that, right out of the air-fryer, looks a lot like a french fry. But two minutes later, you’ll have limp fries that are unevenly brown on the outside.
While doing research on how to make great french fries at home, I sent a note to Nik Sharma, author of “The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes,” asking what he’d do. He pointed me to a recipe in his book for oven “fries.”
Sharma discovered that parboiling the potatoes in water infused with lemon juice, salt and a bit of baking soda helps them release excess starch, forces the starch to coat the surface of each fry and ensures a soft and creamy interior. The citric acid in the lemon juice also “prevents excessive browning,” which Sharma says is often preferred by french fry lovers, who want the interior to have the texture of mashed potatoes and the exterior to be golden.
I tried Sharma’s genius trick in the air-fryer and it worked like a charm. That said, it did dirty quite a few dishes, and, without Sharma’s spice coating, didn’t produce a fry that stayed crisp for that much longer. If you own “The Flavor Equation,” the recipe for Gunpowder Oven “Fries” with Goat Cheese Dip is absolutely worth a try, especially if you’re looking for something beyond the basic french fry.
I decided to go back to a straightforward approach: Rinsing the cut potatoes, to remove some of their starch, improves the texture quite a bit, as it does for deep-fried fries. But what really helps is if you let the cut potatoes soak in cold water for at least 30 minutes (or up to overnight in the fridge).
The extended soak allows excess starch to leach out of the potatoes, which helps them brown more evenly, and I found that they stay crisper for longer out of the air-fryer.
This is the method I settled on, as it’s mostly hands-off and, especially if you like your potatoes well-done, produces fries with a noticeable crunch. Do I still prefer the deep-fried original? Yes, but if you’re looking for a recipe for air-fryer fries, this one will do the trick.
Crispy Air-Fryer Fries
Active time: 10 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes
Makes: 2 to 4 servings
If you love french fries but don’t love deep-frying, air-fryer (or oven-baked) fries are for you. This straightforward recipe uses just 2 tablespoons of oil to achieve crispy, light brown potatoes. Russet potatoes, which are lower in starch, are ideal here.
- 2 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 large), scrubbed or peeled
- 2 tablespoons peanut, grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, plus more as needed
- Cut the potatoes into sticks about 3/8-inch thick. Place them in a bowl and cover with very cold water, using your hands to swish them around. Allow the cut potatoes to soak for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate and soak up to overnight. Drain well, then dry very well with a dish towel.
- Preheat an air-fryer, with the rack or basket inserted, to 425 degrees. (See NOTES.)
- In a large bowl, toss the dried potato sticks, oil and salt until well-coated. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you will need to air fry the potatoes in two or three batches. For each batch, spread potato sticks in an even layer in the air-fryer basket. Avoid stacking fries for best results; it’s OK if they touch. Air-fry until browned and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with additional salt, if desired.
If you want to ensure extra-crispy fries, you can use a trick from “The Flavor Equation,” by Nik Sharma: In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine 2 pounds russet potatoes cut into 3/8-inch thick sticks, 4 cups water, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 large lemons), 1 teaspoon fine salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and bring to a rolling boil. Cook until tender but still firm, about 2 minutes. (Par-cooking the potatoes in this solution helps them release excess starch, forces the starch to coat the surface of each fry, and ensures a soft and creamy interior.) Carefully drain, then air-fry as directed until light brown and crisp.
These french fries also may be made in an oven: Slice and oil the potatoes as directed. Position oven racks in the lower third and upper third of the oven; and preheat to 425 degrees. Lightly grease two large, rimmed baking sheets, and divide the potatoes between the baking sheets, spreading them in a single layer. Roast the potatoes until browned all over, tossing with a spatula halfway through cooking, 30 to 40 minutes.
If your air fryer only goes to 400 degrees, you may need to add another minute or so of cooking time.
Nutrition per serving (about 1 cup), based on 4 | Calories: 234; Total Fat: 7 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 309 mg; Carbohydrates: 40 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 5 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.