According to legend, a kings chef was usually thwarted by his majestys tardiness. Preparing everything well in advance, he would prudently await the royal appetite before completing a meal. One evening, at the last minute, the frantic chef hastily plunged already-fried potatoes into a second bath of hot oil, bringing them up to temperature. He was amazed to see them magically puff, filling with air inside a crisp exterior.
In Arnauds kitchen only one chef is assigned to this exacting task. It is, appropriately so, a noble and exacting position. Each one must be sliced exactly to 1/8 inch thickness, using a mandolin (William Sonoma has them) The results provide a crisp pillow of golden, air-filled potato. Perfect for dipping into a rich, creamy Bearnaise sauce. Mystery author Julie Smith spent several days working in Arnauds kitchen and researching how one could best dispatch a victim. Her selections were the Buffalo chopper or the vat of frying oil for pommes souffle. Exercise caution when frying at home.
Note: The age of the potatoes is very important. New potatoes have too much moisture and will not puff; potatoes that are old are soft, and will not puff.
Peel the potatoes and trim away the round edges to form rectangles. Cut lengthwise in slices that are uniform from end to end, 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch thick. Cut the slices into uniform widths and trim the end to round slightly. Soak the sliced potatoes in ice water for at least 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes and dry thoroughly. Pour vegetable oil, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep into 2 saucepans. Heat oil in one pan to 325 degrees F, and the other to 375 degrees F. Drop slices into the 325 degrees F oil and shake back and forth on the heat for 6 to 7 minutes. Use a mitt or heavy potholder, being careful not to splash oil onto yourself. After about 5 minutes the slices should start to blister and rise to the top. Keep shaking 1 more minute. Using a skimmer, remove the slices a few at a time and drain on paper towels 1 minute or longer, until they begin to soften. For immediate service, start returning pre-fried potatoes to the second (375 degrees F) pan. They should swell instantly. Cook until golden, then remove and drain on paper towels. Discard any that have not puffed.
* Place puffed potatoes on a paper-lined tray, sprinkle with salt and cover with a towel, continuing frying until all potato slices are cooked.
* To serve later, do not allow the potatoes to brown. Place on the tray and cover, as above. They will keep at room temperature for several hours. At serving time, drop briefly into 375 degrees F oil, moving them around with the skimmer to finish browning. Drain, salt lightly and serve.