Working for Harold Ruttenburg, owner and operator of the Copper Grill in Birmingham was an experience like no other. Harold was eccentric, intense, difficult, focused and the hardest boss I have ever worked for. He was focused on the success of his restaurant and I learned a lot from him over the years.
As his chef I had to develop one of the most difficult recipes I have ever come across, Belgium fries. Harold had and idea, he was a visionary and he had to get across to me his “vision” and it was my job to bring this recipe to life. I will be honest with you; I really had no idea what I was doing. But with persistence I achieved my goal.
Working in steak houses I knew potatoes and the goal was to make the potatoes do what I wanted them to do. We wanted sweet fries that were like buttery mashed potatoes in the center and a crisp, salty outside.
After working 14 hour days, 7 days a week with lots of yelling and arguing and throwing out 1000 pounds of potatoes in three months we finally achieved our goal. This recipe is not difficult if the steps are followed exactly to the letter and if prepared properly you will end up with “PERFECT” Belgium fries that are like no other.
1. Choose large Idaho potatoes or russet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and cut them into fries, ¼ inch by ¼ inch rectangle. Place them in a bowl and run cold water over them for 10 minutes to rinse off the starch. Cover the potatoes with cold water and place them in the refrigerator over night.
2. Drain the potatoes into a round basket with a handle. In an 8 quart pot dissolve 4 cups of sugar in 4 quarts of water. Place on the stove, add the basket of potatoes and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until they are soft and almost falling apart. It is ok if they fall apart a little because they are not meant to be perfectly shaped fries.
3. Remove the basket of fries and shock them by placing them into a sink that is filled with ice water. When cooled remove the basket and let the water drain off.
4. In a large stock pot add about 3 quarts of canola oil or enough to cover the basket of fries. Place a thermometer in the oil and bring to 250 degrees.
5. Slowly place the basket of fries into the oil and fry or 2-3 minutes. Remove the basket and let drain on a plate to catch the oil.
6. Return the oil to 250 degrees and place the basket back in the oil for 2-3 minutes.
7. REPEAT THIS STEP 8 MORE TIMES LETTING THE OIL RETURN TO 250 DGEREES EACH TIME.
8. Once the steps are completed turn the heat up and bring the oil to 375 degrees. Place the basket of fries in the hot oil and cook until golden and crisp.
9. Remove the basket and heavily salt with lots of kosher salt and serve with homemade ketchup.
Thomas Minchella got his first taste of the restaurant business as a teenager – washing dishes in a New Jersey restaurant. Today, he’s executive chef at the renowned McKendrick’s Steak House in Atlanta.