Why Soak Potatoes Before Frying? (What Do Chefs Say)

When it comes to making golden crispy french fries, there is some debate over whether or not you should soak the potatoes beforehand. So, why soak potatoes before frying? And, if you do choose to soak them, should you use plain water, salt, sugar, or vinegar?

So, let’s look at the benefits of soaking potatoes before frying and which solution works best.

Benefits Of Soaking Potatoes Before Frying?

soaking cut fries in cold water removes excess potato starch

According to Chef Riad Nasr as he told the New York Times in one emblematic article, soaking potatoes before frying them can make the difference between acceptable and outstanding French fries, as it is quintessential in enhancing the crispy, irresistible texture of a perfect fry [1].

What you achieve by soaking potatoes before frying is reducing their starch content, as the potato will unleash most of it in the water you drain out. Starch is responsible for potatoes’ fluffy and soft texture, so removing some of it will immediately improve the crispiness [2].

Removing starch from potatoes also improves the frying process in different ways.

Primarily, it will reduce the oil absorption, making your French fries less greasy and guaranteeing a more even cooking process. Likewise, the lack of starch will make potatoes less sticky, preventing them from sticking to one another while frying.

But whether you soak your fires or not, using a double-fry method described here is a sure way to get a perfectly crisp exterior.

Are There Any Disadvantages Of Soaking Potatoes Before Frying?

potato and fires on the table

Whether or not soaking potatoes before frying has any disadvantages depends on taste.

For example, legendary chef Anthony Bourdain explained that he hardly soaked the potatoes before frying, as reducing the starch content too drastically can change the sugar content and drains the potato of its good qualities as well as some nutrients [1].

If you prefer French fries to have more of a bite and a fattier texture underneath a crisp exterior, then soaking potatoes before frying might not be your technique. However, there are no hazards to health or well-being using this method.

How Long To Soak Potatoes Before Frying?

soaking potatoes in water overnight

As with many other things in the culinary world, there is no universal rule or answer to this question. Many different chefs and recipes recommend various timeframes depending on taste, potato varieties, and other aspects.

However, keep in mind that the bare minimum seems to be at least two hours—some say you can get away with a quick 30-minute soak in emergency cases, but I definitely recommend going past the hour benchmark if you can.

There doesn’t seem to be a time limit for soaking fries. Chef Nasr recommended soaking for at least eight hours [1], and I definitely agree—soaking potatoes overnight is a time-saver. It can make a difference if you have the time.

But soaking in plain water is not the only option you have available.

For Extra Crisp, Consider Vinegar Water

soaking potatoes in vinegar water before frying

Globally recognized chef J. Kenji López-Alt swears by vinegar as the key to perfectly crisp French fries [3].

As he explains, it turns out that simple distilled white vinegar has a massive effect on French fries without modifying the flavor in any particularly noticeable way.

It’s time to get a bit science-y. Adding a bit of vinegar to the water soak can slow down the breakdown of pectin in potatoes, which is the starch found in the spuds. The result is that the surface of the potatoes develops tiny bubbles that aid in keeping the surface crispy for a long time, even after cooling.

Subsequently, the result is French fries that are super crunchy on the outside but fluffy on the inside, as the vinegar only acts in the outside layer of the potato.

How To Soak Potatoes In Vinegar Water?

partially boiling the fries

You may be surprised, but Kenji doesn’t exactly recommend soaking potatoes in vinegar water. Instead, he proposes parboiling them—that means partially boiling the fries for a short timeframe before deep frying or shallow frying them.

He recommends boiling the potatoes in the vinegar water over high heat for ten minutes, no longer than that. The key is to wait until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart. After removing them from the vinegar water, let them sit and dry for a few minutes before proceeding with the frying part.

A regular vinegar water soak can also work if you prefer to skip the parboiling altogether.

Stir in about 2 tablespoons vinegar and place the cut fires in the water. Place the bowl in the fridge and soak for at least one hour. Keep in mind that the vinegar flavor will be a bit more noticeable—which can be a plus, as the flavor contrast is sought-after by many.

However, that is not the only option you have available.

Does Soaking French Fries In Salt Water Work?

soaking potatoes in salt water before frying

Using salt also seems to work, although it works a bit differently than vinegar.

It turns out that potatoes are pretty moist; dipping them in salt water can draw out the excess water and slightly dry them. The result is a crispier and crunchier fry throughout [4].

That is why some people choose to soak their potatoes in vinegar water with a tad bit of salt, as it can grant them the best of both worlds.

The process is quite simple. Grab a large bowl and fill it with cold water along with 2 tablespoons of salt (and some vinegar). Then add the cut potatoes into the salt water and place them in the fridge. Let them soak at least for one hour, then drain them and dry very so that the hot oil would not splatter too much.

Why Do You Soak Fries In Sugar?

crispy deep fried potatoes

Your third option for crispy and delicious French fries is the opposite of vinegar and salt—sugar. It also turns out to be the preferred option in McDonald’s.

It turns out that adding some sugar into the water you dip your fries into has a twofold effect. First, it can prevent them from soaking up too much oil during the frying process and, in turn, enhance the crispiness of that external layer.

Sugar also enhances browning. If you are struggling to get that perfect dark golden brown color, this might be your option.

The potatoes need to be soaked in sugar water for at least one hour before frying, but as with other methods above, 3 to 4 hour or overnight soak would be even better.

To make the sugar water, simply combine 1/2 cup of white sugar with 4-5 cups of cold water in a large bowl. Then, add the cut potato sticks and place the bowl in the fridge. Before frying, drain, rinse with cold water and pat them completely dry.

Conclusion – Soaking Works

Soaking potatoes before frying can and will reduce the starch content, which will naturally increase crispiness and drive home that crunch factor we all want in our fries.

Although soaking in plain water works just fine, many recipes and chefs call for including different ingredients like salt, usage, or vinegar to enhance a particular aspect of French fries.

Parboiling in vinegar can enhance the crispiness in the outside layer of the fries without affecting the soft inside, salt can reduce the water content of soft and fluffy potatoes, and sugar can accelerate browning.

I did add some apple cider vinegar with manuka honey to the soaking water and soaked for 3 hours, and that gave me really nice, crispy, and golden brown fries, but not much different than the other soaking solutions.

Whatever option you choose depends on what you aim for. Ultimately, my best advice is to try them all or do some experiments and combinations on your own and discover which one fits your idea of what the perfect French fry should be like.


About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, avid home cook, and writer interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.