Fries are Vegan - Thank the heavens!
Frozen french fries have so many great things going for them. First, they're a fast and easy side dish that go with almost anything. Second, when fries are on the menu, you don't have to beg your kids to come to the table. And best of all, you can satisfy your french fry cravings without hitting the drive-thu and falling prey to all the burgers and shakes.
That's reason enough for me to keep a bag in the freezer at all times. But there are lots of brands to choose from. Which ones will actually cook up as deliciously as the picture on the bag? I had to find out, so I grabbed all the brands I could find, cranked up the oven, and got some help setting up a blind tasting.
How I Chose the Frozen Fries
I didn't include any crinkle, curly, or waffle fries, or any big, thick, steak fry wedges. This was simply a test of straight-up fries like you'd get at a fast food joint. Some brands called them "shoestring," others called them "straight cut." Some were thicker than others, but they were all firmly within the "classic fry" category.
After cooking eight kinds of fries, some several times, I learned one important thing: Don't overcrowd the pan. The more room you can give them, the more likely they'll cook up crispy outside and tender inside.
1. Alexia House Cut Fries with Sea Salt, $3 for 28 ounces
These shoestring (aka fast food-style) fries bake up perfectly crispy with rich potato flavor, perhaps due to the little bit of potato skin left on them. They're already seasoned with sea salt, but sprinkle some more on top and you won't be able to stop eating them. Unlike many other brands made with all sorts of additives and starches, these are blessedly simple with just five recognizable ingredients (potatoes, oil, salt, apple juice concentrate to promote browning, and citric acid). Do not confuse these with the Smart Classics line, which are 98 percent fat free and bake up unpleasantly leathery.
2. Market Pantry Shoestring Fries, $2 for 26 ounces
They're not battered like those irresistible fries you get at brewpubs and ball games, but they sure look and taste like it. These shoestring fries cooked up the crispiest of the bunch, thanks to being tossed in some sort of starch mixture. It makes for a long ingredients list but, if you're a crunch monster, these are for you.
3. Kroger French Fries, $3 for 24 ounces
Somewhere between shoestring and steak fries, these thicker-cut sticks tasted the most salty and savory of all. The savoriness was so pronounced I had to check the label to see if they were doused with broth (they weren't). Crispy on the outside, the interior texture was like smooth, salty mashed potatoes. Get these if you prefer the kinds of fries that are thick enough to soak up ketchup, malt vinegar, or gravy.
4. 365 Organic Shoestring French Fries, $3 for 16 ounces
The skinniest of the shoestring versions, these unsalted fries had good potato flavor but, as they cooled, they became rather hard. They also tended to bake unevenly, with the skinny tips over-browning before the rest of the fries were done. While the top three fries we tested were still pretty good when cold, these weren't. Meaning, these are to be avoided if you have slow eaters in your family.
Pass me the ketchup!
5. Cascadian Farms Straight Cut French Fries, $4.50 for 16 ounces
Almost shockingly white, these thicker-cut fries baked up with uneven dark brown spots. The interior of each fry was very starchy, dry, and bland. This isn't a big surprise since there's no added salt, but the dry starchiness had us crying out for water.
6. Trader Joe's Handsome Cut Potato Fries, $2 for 24 ounces
If you really love the tannic, earthy flavor of potato skins, you'll probably like these fairly thick fries. For me, though, the bits of skin left on them overwhelmed the flavor of everything else, making them taste like potato skin sticks.
7. Ore-Ida Golden Fries, $2.50 for 32 ounces
At first these fries were just straight-forward and good: crispy, salty, potato-y, but then a discernible off-flavor emerged in the aftertaste, something kind of chemically or artificial. This was especially obvious when tasting them side-by-side with other brands.
Remember, when it comes to fries: 2 seconds on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!
Contributor for Kitchn
Danielle Centoni is a food writer, editor, recipe developer and cookbook author based in Portland, Oregon. Her work at Eater earned a James Beard Journalism Award in 2016. Her latest cookbook, "Portland Cooks," will be published in fall 2017.