If you’ve never soaked potatoes before frying them, I have to warn you: they’ll be crunchy. And not in a good way. So, what happens if you don’t soak potatoes before frying?
No matter how long or hot the potatoes are cooked, they will be a little hard and never quite reach that coveted golden-brown texture. This is because when potato pieces are fried, their starches melt and remain behind as crispiness in the final product.
The only way to avoid this unpleasant fact of life is to cook them with sugar or salt ahead of time; but then you run the risk of adding unhealthy flavorings–soaking your cut pieces instead makes sense for those who want something sweet one day and salty another–or just something crispy at any meal.
What Causes Crunchiness in Potatoes When Frying?
In some cases, it’s the oil or fat that causes the crunchiness, and all you have to do is reduce it. But in most instances, it’s starch converting to sugar.
The reason that we tolerate potatoes fried hard on the outside but soft on the inside is because of a process called polymerization, where starch molecules change form and bond together. Polymerized starch forms crystalline networks that give potato foods a pleasant crunch.
But this crystalline network also makes it difficult to do something about the crunchiness, like soaking the potatoes in water.
Why Soak Potatoes Before Frying?
You may be surprised that soaking potatoes doesn’t work.
The theory goes that food starch is made up of long chains of sugars, and the longer the chain, the quicker it will polymerize and become crunchy when exposed to heat. The longer the chain, however, the harder it is for water to penetrate. So we shouldn’t soak potatoes before frying because doing so would force water in between all those long chains, which wouldn’t absorb it anymore.
This is true, as an oversimplification. But potato starch actually consists of distinct granules, and the finer and more uniform they are, the easier it is for water to get in and allow potatoes to cook evenly. Uncoated potato pieces with their irregular crystalline networks are likely to absorb more oil or fat during frying–and make them that way.
What Happens if You Don’t Soak Potatoes Before Frying?
Here is what happens if you don’t soak potatoes before frying:
- Wet pieces contain more starch than dry ones because there is more water per unit of potato.
- The starch granules are huge and irregularly shaped, and they don’t absorb enough water. Water can’t penetrate between the long starch chains, so it all ends up on the surface of the pieces.
- The crusts are large and light in color–some even look pale brown or pinkish–because they contain very little potato starch. The smaller amount of starch in these crusts can absorb up to twice as much oil or fat than the small amount on the dry side.
- Their light color results from a higher proportion of sugars in their starch granules. The water and starch won’t soak into the potato pieces before frying, so they will be crunchy and moist. The potatoes will have a bad mouthfeel. The crusts appear dark because they contain more oil than the rest of the potatoes—more on that later.
But even if you do soak potatoes, they may not necessarily soak up enough water to prevent oil absorption. The reason is because of the typical potato cut: across, or an X. This shape allows water to penetrate only one side of the potato, while the other side remains crunchy and protected by its skin.
Soaking potatoes in advance doesn’t work as well as coating them in a thick batter or flour-based mixture before frying.
The Basic Technique for Soaking Potatoes
Soaking potatoes before frying is still a myth without any evidence to prove it’s right or wrong. In fact, many people chose to do so to get a consistent result. In that case, what is the basic technique for soaking potatoes?
I think it’s a good idea to read this section to get a better idea of batter and flour-based mixtures, as well as why they could be more ideal for frying than plain water.
The simple technique of soaking potatoes is the same as soaking them in water before frying, except for the type of liquid you use: batter or flour-based mixture. Said liquid will surely cover the whole surface of the potato, and if you have a high-quality oil, you’ll get a very crisp result at the end.
Frequently Asked Questions
#1 Should You Soak Potatoes Before Frying?
Do not soak the potatoes. You should only pat them dry with a paper towel before frying them. It will cut down on the oil absorption, making your fried potato crisp and fluffy.
#2 What’s The Best Way To Season Potatoes Before Frying?
Potatoes are already flavorful enough on their own. If you’re looking to make them more aromatic, add some ground or mixed spices to the batter before cooking. Or use herbs like rosemary for a nice aroma after frying.
#3 What Happens if You Leave Potatoes in Water Too Long?
If you leave the potatoes too long in the water, they could be under-cooked in the center. On the other hand, damp or even slightly cooked potatoes are even better for fried food than fully cooked ones.
#4 Can You Freeze Potatoes Before Frying?
Potatoes can be frozen before frying if you want. However, they should be stored in an airtight container to prevent moisture loss. Most recipes don’t include freezing potatoes before frying because it is not recommended at all.
The only way to avoid the unpleasant fact of life is to cook them with sugar or salt ahead of time but then you run the risk of adding unhealthy flavorings. Soaking your cut pieces instead makes sense for those who want something sweet one day and salty another or just something crispy at any meal. If you still wonder about this question, check out the tips on the experts’ blog, or forums.