There's one thing about McDonald's that even the most passionate fast-food haters would agree on: the fries are pretty darn good (Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto).
Incredibly crisp on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and always heavily salted, they're considered one of the most popular menu items at McDonald's because of their approachability and taste. Fried in vegetable oil (though they do contain a small amount of 'natural beef flavor,' which is primarily composed of wheat and dairy but does have a hint of meat), the fries serve as an attractive choice for those who can't stand fast food when they're out on the open road and are forced to succumb to fast-food options. At 11 grams of fat and 230 calories for a small serving of fries, they're not the most horrible choice you can make at the fast-food restaurant. And just like the argument has been made about how Domino's thin-crust pizza is unique in the pizza world, McDonald's fries have a one-of-a-kind taste that you can't get anywhere else, too.
With that being said, it's probably obvious to you by now that there's really no surefire way to make an exact replica of the fries at home. Even if you invested in the machinery that McDonald's' suppliers used and tracked down every mysterious ingredient that they list for their fries, why would you want to make them that way? Yes, the taste is amazing, but is it worth the thousands of dollars you'd have to pay, or the negative repercussions of eating something like sodium acid pyrophosphate?
Still, we really like McDonald's fries, so we decided to attempt to make them at home, anyway, using natural ingredients and equipment that wouldn't break our bank accounts. To do this, we spoke with one professional in the industry who, despite his many accolades, is willing to admit that he likes McDonald's -- particularly their fries -- a lot. Dale Talde, chef and owner of Brooklyn's Talde and Pork Slope, and a former contest on Bravo's Top Chef: Season Four, is a huge fan of McDonald's, and likes their fries so much he's modeled some of his own after them. He had some thoughts on how to recreate McDonald's fries at home, and we include them here.
Along with Talde's tips, we sought the help of McDonald's themselves, and inferred some details about the recipe from their video that explains where the fries come from and how they're made. If you watch the video, you'll see that they also spoke with a representative from the potato supplier McCain about the process, so we tracked down their processes as well to further our research.
At the end of the day, we wanted the process of making McDonald's fries at home to be easy. No matter how many times we tell you that these fries are better for you because they're made from all-natural ingredients, or that they taste exactly the same as the fast-food version (we promise!), nothing will convince you more to make them at home then the fact that it's easy. Because why would it be worth all of the work when you can just head to the closest drive-thru and pay less than $3? Here, we'll tell you why.
- Anne Dolce, The Daily Meal
We’re starting at the very beginning of this story, because how the potato became a fry is an important part of why McDonald’s fries taste the way they do. If you want to start with a frozen bag of fries, skip ahead a few slides, but if you’re doing it from scratch start to finish, start reading here. And here would be with fresh Idaho potatoes, washed and peeled. Want More McDonald's? Click here to see How to Make All of Your Favorite McDonald's Menu Items at Home Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto
One of the first things you’ll need once you’ve washed and peeled your Idaho potatoes are some "dope a$$ knife skills," as Talde puts it. This is so that you can cut the fries into a consistent and uniform diameter, which is one of Talde’s favorite things about the fry. While he admits that they may vary in length, the diameter will always be ¼ -inch thick, and this is one of the things that lends to a perfectly crisp and golden brown fry. While you’re cutting your fries, Talde instructs to place the cut ones in a cold water bath mixed with vinegar. When you’re done prepping all of the fries, drain and rinse the cut fries with cold water, and put them in another water-vinegar bath to sit overnight. Talde tells us that this allows them to leech out some of that extra starch, so that they have a better chance of crisping up. Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto
We’re not going to try to define every single ingredient found in McDonald’s fries in order to replicate them at home, but instead we paid attention to a few simple cues given to us by McCain’s product manager, Mario Dupuis. As he says in the video, the fries are first blanched to remove excess sugars and to stop enzyme activity, and then tossed in a dextrose solution and another "ingredient," which prevents them from turning gray. After reading McCain’s website, we were able to determine that they blanch the fries at around 180 degrees for several minutes, and that afterward they’re dried before being tossed in the solutions. For a faster drying process, we dried our fries in the oven at 125 degrees for five minutes, and then tossed them in a sugar and water solution to replicate the dextrose solution, and then tossed them in a water, vinegar, and lemon juice bath, which we peg as the "ingredient" that prevents them from going gray. Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto
Now that the fries are prepped and ready to go, it’s time to discuss the method with which you’ll make them. Some people think that they can cut corners and the mess by using an oven, but Talde says it best when he told us, "If you don’t have a fryer, make mashed potatoes [instead]." Fries are called fries for a reason, so it’s time to invest in a deep-fryer, or break out a large skillet durable enough for frying (like a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet). The oil that’s used is also important with this step. Many people extrapolate that the fries are so delicious and rich because they’re fried in some exotic ingredients, like beef tallow, but Talde ensures us that this step can be skipped. Because beef tallow is so hard to find, he likes using peanut oil to make his fries, because it has a great flavor and a high burning point. Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto
The blanching method for McDonald’s is used by everyone across the board, including the McCain suppliers and Talde. Talde explains that the blanching method is necessary "because if you cooked them raw, they’d never really get that crispy." We decided to go with McCain’s method, which is frying them for 45 to 60 seconds at 390 degrees. Once pre-fried, place the fries on a wire rack or colander and shake them vigorously so that all of the excess oil is removed. Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto
McDonald’s fries start frozen, and this is mostly because it’s the safest way to transport them from suppliers to McDonald’s’ locations, but cooling the fries down after pre-frying them is an important step in the process, too. To cool our fries, we laid them out on baking sheets so that they were in a single layer and placed them in the freezer for at least four hours. Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto
As you can see by now, most of the important steps of making McDonald’s fries come from the prep. Once they’re cooled, they’re ready for the actually frying, which is a simple process that starts at 275 degrees for a pre-fry, and then at 375 degrees for about five minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. And while you may think the fries are heavily salted (even Talde does), we chose to believe McDonald’s when they say they don’t use that much salt, and we salted every 2 cups of ours with 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt, to replicate that "heavily salted" taste and appearance. Exact McDonald’s fries may not be possible at home, but this version gets you close enough. Click here to see the Fries That Taste Like McDonald's Recipe Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto
Correction: This post originally characterized McDonald's fries as containing no animal products, when in fact McDonald's fries contain "natural beef flavor" in their ingredient list.
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