Extra virgin olive oil usually isn’t the first think that comes to mind when I think of French fries. But cookbook author Fran Gage changed my view.
“You can deep fry with extra virgin olive oil,” Gage told us. “There is a popular misconception that extra-virgin olive oil cannot be heated to the temperatures needed to deep fry.”
She then related a story about using extra virgin olive oil to make “fabulous” French fries. The fries were prepared for a lunch celebrating the publication of her book about California’s artisan producers of extra virgin olive oil, The New American Olive Oil (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009).
After some experimentation, Gage settled on the use of Russet potatoes instead of Yukon Golds. She also opted for a two-stage soak of the potatoes in cold water – the first with the potatoes peeled, the second with them cut into classic fry shape.
The extra virgin olive oil was heated to 380 degrees Fahrenheit. Gage then crossed her fingers.
“Timing was perfect the day of the event. As I was concluding the extra-virgin olive oil tasting the kitchen staff was putting final touches on the dishes,” noted Gage on her Web site. “When everyone was seated, the staff passed hot-from-the fryer fries. They were glorious, with a cleaner taste than any fried potato I have ever had.”
On her web site, Gage offers up more information about deep frying with extra virgin olive oil:
“Certainly 450 degrees Fahrenheit is too hot for extra-virgin olive oil, but at 380 degrees, maybe a bit higher, the oil will not smoke, which indicates a breakdown of its components,” notes Gage.
“The smoke point depends on the initial free fatty acid content of the fat. Refined oils that have been stripped of their fatty acids are what most people use for deep frying. But extra-virgin olive oil has a very low fatty acid component, making it eminently suitable.”
Food scientist Harold McGee, in his classic tome On Food and Cooking (Scribner 2004) notes that the breakdown of the fat during deep frying “can be slowed by using a tall, narrow pan and so reducing the area of contact between fat and atmosphere.”
McGee added this important consideration: “The smoke point of a deep-frying fat is lowered every time it’s used, since some breakdown is inevitable even at moderate temperatures, and trouble-making particles of food are always left behind.”