Purists insist that they must be fried — that, if you spread them out on a sheet and bake them in the oven, you may call them French Bakes, but not French Fries.
Good ones are crisp outside and soft inside. They can be eaten by hand or with a fork.
French Fries in the UK are called “chips”, unless you are referring to the kinds of French Fries you get at McDonalds — long, thin French Fries. In which case, Brits will call them “French Fries” or “fries”, just as North Americans do. On the overhead menus at McDonalds in the UK, the menus actually say “French Fries.” The word “chips” is reserved for chunky fries. These are the norm in the UK, and the ones North Americans might call “steak fries” or even “wedges”, unless part of the meal called “fish and chips.” Traditional British fish and chip shops in the UK use all beef tallow for frying in.
Brits eat their chips and French Fries sprinkled with salt and vinegar, or more recently, a side of mayonnaise to daub them in. The mayonnaise is a European habit that has crossed over. The vinegar will be malt vinegar.
Canadians eat theirs sprinkled with salt and vinegar, or ketchup or both. The vinegar will be malt or cider vinegar. Ketchup is astringent, so it plays a role similar to vinegar. The widespread usage of vinegar, symbolized by a bottle or small sachets of it being omnipresent at the counter or tables, though, is more of an eastern Canadian thing that appears to end at Ontario for the most part. Once you’ve headed west into Saskatchewan, you have to start asking for vinegar for your fries. And even in Ontario, in places such as Toronto, ketchup is now far more common than vinegar. You have to ask for vinegar a lot of the time now. You won’t get a funny look; but you’ll have to ask for it, and you may be given white vinegar.
Americans eat French Fries with ketchup and salt. Some people like their ketchup drizzled on their fries. Some like it on the side, to dip their fries one at a time into it.
Brits, and particularly Canadians, believe that vinegar never appears on fries in America. Canadians cling to their bottles of malt vinegar — even though its use is not universal in their own country, and its usage appears to be waning — as a cultural bulkhead against creeping Americanism.
America is not, however, a food-preferences monolith, any more than the UK and Canada are, and vinegar does appear on fries there in some instances. Granted, it’s not at all common nationwide. Many Americans, when they try to picture using vinegar with fries, picture a small bowl of vinegar on the side to dip the Fries into. Following, however, are some exceptions that CooksInfo.com found in America where vinegar may be served with Fries:
- Scattered places in northern Virginia;
- The French Fry sellers on the boardwalk at Ocean City, Maryland, are renowned for their “vinegar fries” — fries with cider vinegar and salt on them served in paper cones. One such place is Thrasher’s, established 1929. They use White House brand apple cider vinegar;
- In Wildwood, New Jersey, a classic combo is a cheesesteak sandwich with vinegar fries. The stands along the boardwalk (38 blocks long) in Wildwood serve French Fries with lots of salt in paper cups with a lid on them. There’s a hole in the lid, into which you tip the top of a bottle of malt vinegar bottle to squeeze the vinegar in. You then shake your Fries to get them all coated with vinegar;
- At various carnivals and fairs, such as Conneaut Lake Park in Pennsylvania (just south of Erie, Pennsylvania), fries served in paper cones, with a bottle of vinegar on the counter;
- In Palmerton, Pennsylvania (where they also serve pierogies with vinegar);
- In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the Original Hot Dog Shop, and at the PNC (Pittsburgh National Corporation) baseball park on the Allegheny River;
- Some restaurant chains in America such as Long John Silvers, Cap’n D’s and Penn Station Subs offer vinegar as a condiment;
- Throughout Rhode Island. The famous Rocky Point Chowder House puts out bottles of malt vinegar on its tables, not ketchup.
- Throughout Maine, and particularly in south-east Maine;
- Campus bars at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana;
- And finally, the Twin City Grill in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Belgians and Dutch like their French Fries with mayonnaise on them. The Dutch also eat them with piccalilli relish.
Belgian Fries are cut a bit more thickly than French Fries, and more like what the French would call “pommes Pont-Neuf.” They are also prepared somewhat differently. The sliced potatoes are soaked in water for 24 hours first to soak out excess starch, then cooked to 300 F (148 C), then rested, then given the final, thorough frying. Though Belgians claim to have invented both waffles and French Fries, waffle fries were an American invention.
In various parts of North America, you find also find Fries adorned with gravy, cheese or a combination of both gravy and cheese, as is done with Disco Fries or the Québec version of poutine. In the UK, curry sauce is also a popular topping.
The three largest processors of frozen French Fries in America are J.R. Simplot, Lamb Weston (owned by ConAgra), and Ore-Ida (owned by Heinz.) North America wide, and world-wide, though, the largest processor overall is McCains (as of 2011.)
In the 1960s, J. R. “Jack” Simplot sealed a supply deal with Ray Croc to supply McDonald’s.
The secret to a crisp French Fry is getting rid of the water in it. Even seemingly successful, crisp, hot ones can turn on you and get soggy fast, because steam from moisture still in the middle can escape, making the outside lose its crispness.
The lower the sugar content in the potato, the better the result. Potatoes with higher sugar contents (generally yellow-flesh ones) may brown too much before they start to properly crisp up. It is best to make Fries from potatoes that have been in storage, to allow more of the sugars to turn into starch.
The potatoes should be cut into even pieces, so that all the fries will cook at the same rate.
Ideally, you start with a potato low in moisture, to reduce the battle you are facing. Potatoes such as Maris Piper are considered excellent for chips by some high-end chefs, as they are by default high in solid matter, and low in moisture. Note though that supermarket scrubbed potatoes can have absorbed extra water during the cleaning process.
Ultra-purists cook their French Fries / chips in three stages:
- Parboil at a low simmer in salted water (to get seasoning inside the potato) for about 10 minutes or until just tender to the fork, and let drain on a rack spread out in a single layer to allow steam to better escape;
- Partially-fry at 140C (284F) until they are a pale gold, about 8 to 10 minutes. If the chips seem to fizz when they are put in the hot oil, that is a sign there is a lot of moisture in them. Put on paper to drain in a single layer to allow steam to escape, and let rest. In fact, at this stage, you can store covered in fridge for up to two days. Bring to room temperature before proceeding to step 3;
- A final frying at 180C (356F) for 3 minutes or so, then drain on paper. Good chips will rattle when you turn them out onto paper after their final fry. Serve piping-hot immediately.
The British chef Heston Blumenthal adds a bit of an “over the top” initial step: he pin-pricks his raw, chipped potatoes, and puts them in a machine that creates a vacuum to vacuum-suck the water out.
When McDonald’s first started out, the potatoes (Russet Burbanks) for its French Fries were peeled by hand, never frozen, and the Fries were fried in fat that was 93% beef tallow, 7% cottonseed oil. In 1966, they started the switch to frozen French Fries supplied by J. R. “Jack” Simplot in Idaho. Simplot and Ray Croc sealed their deal with a hand shake.
In 1990, in the face of media and other criticism for using beef fat, they switched to a 100% vegetable oil, and began adding “natural beef flavour” to the mixture for the fries, to try to compensate for the lost taste. The addition of this flavouring then caused criticism from vegetarians. Then, a few years later, warnings began that trans-fats in the processed vegetable oils that vocal groups had insisted McDonald’s switch to, were far worse than beef fat had ever been.
As of 2011, McDonald’s in America sources its fries from both McCains and Simplot.
The term “French” refers to the style of the cut, meaning to cut into thin matchstick-like pieces, as in “pommes allumettes”.
Some have suggested a better name for it might be “French-cut fried potatoes.”
The term first seems to have appeared in English in America around 1930. A New Yorker magazine writer in 1945 referred to them as “French-fried potatoes” (Ross, Lilian. Defrosted Dinners. Talk of the Town Pages. New York: The New Yorker. 4 August 1945.)
Clay, Xanthe. National chip week: Three steps to a hip chip. London: Daily Telegraph. 11 February 2011.