McDonald’s used to cook its french fries in beef tallow. Back then, McDonald’s french fries were insanely delicious and, as a kid, I was addicted to them and would do anything to get my paws on a little paper envelope of those tallowy, salty, crunchy potato sticks. Back in the early 70s, my dad would pick me up from Montessori every day and, if I was lucky, we would stop by the McDonald’s in Waukesha, pull into the Drive-Thru, and he would hand me a small paper bag. This is my favorite childhood memory.
They’re still tasty now, and all, but it’s just not the same. Sometime around 1990, McD’s switched to vegetable oil. That move caused them a load of trouble, as it turned out that a) they added beef tallow flavoring – of animal origin – to the oil in an effort to retain that savory goodness, angering a lot of vegetarians who felt duped by the “100% vegetable oil” claim and causing numerous people to violate their own religious beliefs unwittingly, and b) as it turned out, all that hydrogenated vegetable oil contained trans fats, which might be even worse for our health than the saturated fat in the beef tallow.
Tonight, I told my husband that I planned to fry the potatoes for our steak frites dinner in beef tallow. I have both beef tallow and duck fat in the reach-in, you see. The confit-making operation has yielded quarts of creamy white duck fat, and several rounds of beef rib roasting provided nearly a quart of pure tallow. He did not object. “I wouldn’t say no,” were his exact words, I believe. Those are always his exact words.
You don’t need to use the 93% tallow/7% vegetable oil blend that McDonald’s used to use to enjoy ridiculously good french fries. Enough tallow to perfume the oil with beefy goodness will do the trick. Also, as a committed twice-fryer, I was skeptical of this cooking method (from Joël Robuchon) until I tried it a few years ago and was amazed – you cannot use it with russets or other high-starch potatoes, which will break, but it produces a perfectly crispy fry with a fluffy interior. It also eliminates a step, and yields a less greasy fry. Even my brother, who was sure that once-fried frites would be soggy, withdrew his objection upon tasting these over New Year.
What do frites accompany? Steak. Hanger steak, to be exact. Time was when you could buy hanger steak for next to nothing as it – along with such other flavorful but chewy cuts as skirt steak, tri-tip, and flatiron – once was considered a garbage cut, suitable for nothing better than the meat grinder. Times have changed. Now the hanger, also called onglet in bistro argot, is coveted for its rich, beefy flavor and solid texture.
A large, tough piece of sinew runs lengthwise down the center of the hanger. Unless you are cooking the hanger sous vide for several of hours – which may turn the hanger to mush if you’re not careful – you must remove the sinew and any silverskin from the meat. Don’t be tempted to eat this cut blue-rare, even if you like your other steaks that way – it tends to be a bit gelatinous when undercooked. Cook it to medium rare. 130-135F/55-57C is the way to go if you’re cooking sous vide, but even then you should remove the sinew and cook not more than an hour.
Allumettes – “matchsticks” – of 3/8″ are the right size cut for these frites. A little smaller is fine – 1/4″ is good – but if you cut them too small, the potatoes may disintegrate during frying.
4 large yellow (medium starch) potatoes, allumettes (3/8″)
6 cups grapeseed or canola oil (peanut is good also and yields an interesting taste)
2 cups beef tallow
Place potatoes and both fats in heavy pan deep enough for oil to cover potatoes and leave at least 4″ at top. Bring to a full boil and cook, moving potatoes gently so they do not stick, from time to time, until deep golden and crisp – about 20-25 mins.
Remove to a rack over a pan to drain. Season and serve immediately (or hold in 200F oven up to 20 mins for service).
Hanger Steak, Weekday Pan Sauce
I call this the “weekday pan sauce” because it’s so simple, you can make this on a weekday. Once you take the steaks out of the pan to rest, the sauce comes together in about 5 minutes. Since you’re making the sauce while the steaks rest, the whole thing is pretty efficient.
Four trimmed hanger steaks
3 tbsp butter
2 thyme branches
2 tbsp cognac
1/4 c dry white wine
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (especially green peppercorn mustard)
Up to 3 tbsp beef stock or water
2 tbsp glace de viande (optional)
Before cooking, season steaks with salt. If you season in advance and they shed any liquid, dry with a clean towel before proceeding.
Place heavy pan over high heat. When hot, add oil and then steaks. Reduce heat to medium and add the butter and thyme branches. Baste with butter. Turn over after 4 minutes and baste 2 minutes. Place in oven. Baste and turn over after 8-10 minutes and roast another 8-10 minutes more (depending on size), basting once. Test for doneness.
Rest steaks. Discard thyme branches and pour off excess fat. Pour in cognac and flame off alcohol. Add white wine and reduce. Add Dijon mustard and juices from rested meat and whisk. Loosen with beef stock or water, if necessary. If using, finish with glace de viande. Taste and season with salt (may not be necessary). Add chives. Return meat to the pan and coat well with sauce. Slice, spoon additional sauce on plate.