Getting the fries right has been a long and fairly time-consuming process. Not really difficult, per se, but I was determined to try a bunch of different things and see how they affected the finished product.
Common wisdom on a ka-chunker cut twice-cooked fry is that you blanch (par-cook) them in 300° oil, drain, cool down, then fry again at about 350° right before serving. The devil is, of course, in the details. Particularly, with this style of fries, the question of how to cool the potatoes down after the first cook.
The question of rinsing the potatoes after cutting them is also one that you'll find various schools of thought on. I decided to try a lot of different ways while I was waiting for the inspection process to progress and weigh what worked best against how difficult/easy it would be to do it that way and ensure it's done consistently.
One thing that really complicated the process was that the thermostats on my fryers were all off by 25 degrees or more (on the low side), so until I got a fryer thermometer to check, I was very confused about the results I was getting.
Basically, what was happening was that I was cooking too hot. When I set it to 300°, I was getting 325°, and ditto for the second, hotter cook. The result was a fry that browned too quickly and so wasn't fully cooked inside before being brown outside. Undercooked, still crunchy in places, soggy, greasy, and burnt-tasting. Not good.
Once I started temping the oil, the 300/350 method worked, so I started playing with the cooling down variable.
Chefs Bob Zrenner and Jason Hammel are friends, so I asked them both how they do their fresh-cut fries. Both said that the blanched fries should be cooled as quickly as possible, spread out on trays in the freezer. Bob said rinse the potatoes for 20 minutes in running water, which seemed like a long time to me.
I started with a really well-rinsed potato and found it too "clean". The fries were too perfect somehow. I played with rinsing a bit less and less until I found that the method that works for me (at least with the current batch of potatoes) is just to cut them into water, move them around a bit to rinse the residual starch, and then pull them out and cook them.
Leaving the starch is a conscious decision, but I find that to my taste, it yields a better fry. One that's somehow both quite crunchy, but also a bit chewy somehow. I'm pretty happy with how the fries are coming out now.
Yeah, and then there's the toppings. Cooking really good fries is definitely something I'm aspiring to do every day, but, honestly, you could put Merkt's cheese sauce and crisp bacon on an old shoe and and I'd eat it!
As far as cooling them down, I'm going to leave that little fact unblogged and not a part of the public domain for now. If you're that curious you can come on into the restaurant once we open and see for yourself.