Legend has it that "French fries" were created by Napoleon's chef while the French armies were on the move: Bonaparte wanted something hot to eat as soon as they would stop and camp, so the chef would always have these cut- and blanched potatoes ready to be thrown into hot oil to brown and serve. Whether or not this tale is true, it serves well as a reminder of the important culinary secret that fries have to be cooked twice: first as little as ten minutes or as much as a few hours in advance, and then a quick browning before serving. Restaurants and fast-food establishments love to have food pre-prepped before the rush and do just a quick reheat and finish to serve. A busy hostess (or host) likes that, too, so this is a recipe for your collection.
4 large russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick strips
2 quarts peanut oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Rinse cut potatoes in a large bowl with lots of cold running water until water becomes clear. Cover with water by 1 inch, and cover with ice. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two days.
In a 5-quart pot, Dutch oven or electric deep fryer, heat oil over medium-low heat until a few drops of water will splatter. Ensure that you have at least 3 inches of space between the top of the oil and the top of the pan, as fries will bubble up when they are added.
Drain ice-water from cut fries. Wrap potato pieces in a clean dishcloth or paper towel and thoroughly pat dry. Carefully add fries, a handful at a time, to the hot oil. Fry, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft and limp and begin to turn a blond color, about seven- to eight minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove fries from the oil and set aside to drain on paper towels. Let rest for at least ten minutes or up to two hours.
When ready to serve the French fries, reheat the oil. Transfer the blanched potatoes to the hot oil and fry again, stirring frequently, until golden brown and puffed, about one minute. Transfer to paper-lined platter and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.