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Freaky French Fry-Day

Instead of the customary excuse for not posting for a long time, I give you a pun that would have worked out better had I gotten this up yesterday.

Just editing this image made my mouth water.

Just editing this image made my mouth water.


As co-owner of Two Mile Brewing, one of my sacred duties is to personally taste-test everything on the menu. So, over the past couple weeks I’ve been eating a lot of french fries. It’s a dirty job, etc.

It turns out that – as you can see from the ingredients – there isn’t really much to making great french fries. It just takes a little more time than making bad french fries. Not using a commercial deep fryer and several quarts of oil makes it take that much longer, but who cares? They’re worth the wait.

The perfect french fry should have a skin that’s crunchy and savory, never charred, with enough oil still hanging around to make things interesting, but not enough to get soggy once the fries cool. Inside, they should be uniformly fluffy and tender, like a well-steamed baked potato, and neither bland nor noticeably seasoned. The subtle variation in proportions of these contrasting textures and flavors is what makes each fry its own experience, something to be savored and sought out again and again.

Anyway, let’s cook some.

  • 1 pint vegetable oil (I use canola)
  • 2 lb Russet potatoes
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • seasoning blend, to taste (see below)

If we were making potato salad, skins would be our friends, but in the fryer they’ll just turn into carbon, so peel the taters and slice into batons about 1 cm on a side. In a large bowl, toss with salt and vinegar, then add just enough cold water to cover. Rest for 30 minutes, then drain and thoroughly shake off any excess water. Blot dry if you’re really paranoid about spattering.

Pour the oil into an 8 qt stock pot – it should cover the bottom to about an inch. Heat to 150°C. Working in small batches (for 2 lb, probably six batches total), add the potatoes and fry for 3 minutes or until the batons are not quite cooked through, monitoring the temperature to maintain 150°C. Remove to paper towels and allow to cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. The residual heat will fully cook the interior of the spuds without letting more oil penetrate, and the outsides will firm up. The smaller fries may pick up a little color, but there shouldn’t be any significant browning. We’re just setting the stage for the Maillard products that will create our perfect crust in the second frying.

Once the fries have cooled, heat the oil to 180°C and fry for another 3 minutes, or until golden-brown. Again, work in small batches to keep the oil temperature up. Remove to paper towels and shake or blot dry of any excess oil. Toss with your seasoning(s) of choice and serve.

As far as seasoning, anything other than salt is of course optional. I’m still playing around, but here’s what I’ve liked best so far:

  • 1½ tbsp coarsely ground salt
  • 1 tbsp flaked parsley
  • 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder

Batch Sparging Theory

This post is intended to serve primarily as documentation for the Batch Sparging Calculator. If you’re looking to skip to the end of the page, head over that way instead.

One great thing about batch- or no-sparge brewing is that it’s fairly easy to predict lauter efficiency, and with good results. This is due to the fact that in batch sparging, the actual mechanics of the lauter tun – the way that wort flows through the grain bed – are neglected. Some of the wort is drained, and a set fraction is left behind in the tun. We begin with a few assumptions:

  • Conversion efficiency is 100%.
  • Conversion is complete before lautering begins.
  • No additional grain is added during lautering.
  • Each infusion is fully drained, less any deadspace.

The lauter efficiency is then a simple ratio of the two wort fractions:

E = V1/V0

Where E is the lauter efficiency, V1 is the volume run off to the kettle, and V0 is the total strike volume in the lauter tun. As a practical matter, efficiency is maximized when the tun is drained as completely as possible, and so the volume run off is equal to the infusion volume minus the volume absorbed by the grain and any deadspace that can’t be drained:

V1 = V0 – Va – Vd

There is one additional factor that must be considered, and that is the expansion of the wort due to dissolved sugars. When measuring the volume and gravity of the wort, the apparent extract will be less than the estimated efficiency. We can compensate by defining an expansion coefficient, C, which is the inverse of the wort specific gravity:

C = 1/SG

When it comes to analytically determining the expansion coefficient, however, we encounter a Catch-22: the efficiency determines how much extract is in solution, but the amount of sugar extracted also depends on efficiency. In practice, the calculator just takes a brute-force numerical approach of iterating the efficiency calculation three times, approximating the expansion coefficients. The full expression for lauter efficiency is therefore:

E = CV1/(V1 + Va + Vd)

For a no-sparge beer, this is all that is needed. When considering one or more sparges, however, we have to add the extract contributions from the additional infusions. The extract available for sparging is, by definition, whatever remains after draining the previous infusion(s). This is the complement of the lauter efficiency:

(Va + Vd)/(V1 + Va + Vd)

And so the overall efficiency contribution of the n-th sparge is:

En = Cn(Vn/(Vn + Va + Vd))*((Va + Vd)/(Vn-1 + Va + Vd))

Summing the individual extract efficiencies gives the overall lauter efficiency. Expanded to four terms (three sparges), which is about the most that would ever be reasonable, the expression becomes:

E = C1((V0 – Va – Vd)/V0) + C2((Va + Vd)/V0)(V2/(V2 + Va + Vd)) + C3((Va + Vd)/V0)((Va + Vd)/V2)(V3/(V3 + Va + Vd)) + C4((Va + Vd)/V0)((Va + Vd)/V2)((Va + Vd)/V3)(V4/(V4 + Va + Vd))

Which I realize looks ridiculous written out like that but is computationally really straightforward.

With that done, all that remains is to multiply the efficiency by the (apparent) total extract, and divide by volume to get gravity. If you look at the source code for the calculator you’ll see that everything else is just parsing input and prettying up the results for output.

By the way, this is nothing new; batch sparging analysis has previously been taken up by Ken Schwartz and Kai Troester, among others.

Batch Sparging Calculator

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Draft System Balancing, Revisited

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Or not. It doesn’t really affect me either way.

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