Wednesday, May 07, 2014

No Mayo... Not Acceptable...

I was commenting on three different threads today about french fries/steak fries/chips etc...

I am an Irish American (my family are immigrants and I lived there for years). From both sides, I have been eating fried potatoes in stick like form from about birth... My son started taking them off our plates at 4 months old and now get mighty pissy if we don't share with him.

As such, I am a true lover of the fried potato...

Having lived and eaten all over the world, I generally personally prefer mine in the american "steak fry" form, which is much like the Irish/English "chip", except usually served slightly crisper and hotter.

As it happens, a friend of mine, Jonathan Katz, is about to move his family to Belgium for an interesting career opportunity.

To which I posted:
"Belgium... mayonnaise on french fries... <suppressed shudder> good luck man... "
I realize I may have created the impression there, that I think Belgians make bad french fries...

Actually, in my experience, they make the best pommes frites (potato fries) in the world.

In fact, they "invented" "french fries" as we know them, Americans having misapplied the name "french" to them some time in the late 19th century, and then reinforcing it after world war one... probably because it was alliterative, and we can't resist alliteration in names.

Belgian pommes frites, or usually just "frites", are almost the perfect synthesis of all that is good about American french fries and steak fries, and English/Irish chips.

They're usually cut a bit bigger than french fries, a bit smaller and not as planklike as chips or steak fries (sometimes called "natural cut" "hand cut" or "thick cut" in the u.s.), and served at a crispness in between the softer "chip", and the crisper American style "fry". Just about the same crispness that I would consider the perfect "steak fry".

Importantly, they achieve this texture by being twice cooked (as any who make their own fries should do). First they are either blanched in salted/acidulated water, or parcooked in low temperature oil (sometimes both). Then they are allowed to cool, and just before service they are flash fried to crisp them up.

This results in a perfect creamy potato interior, without hollowing out or being gummy, and a perfect crispy exterior that STAYS crisp longer.

Done well, they're absolutely wonderful, and Belgium has many many places that do them well.

I would wager that Belgians eat frites, as much as Americans eat fries. They are as much the national side dish there, as they are here, or maybe even more. Steak frite, moule frite, just about anything frite...

Also, Belgian have an entirely civilized and appropriate custom of frites as street food, snack food, even just for lunch.

Take note Americans... this is a GOOD IDEA.

Frankly, the only way I like mussels is moules et frites avec lardon, and the Belgians do THAT better than anyone else in the world (particularly with a nice bier).

I have only one issue with Belgians and frites...

... it's that they just ruin these perfect crispy pieces of potato goodness... by putting mayonnaise on them.

Of course, being the frites capital of the world, they also put other things on them... Lots of other things in fact... But by default, and by far most popular, is mayonnaise.

No... Just no... (though Belgian mayo is FAR better than U.S. mayo for the most part).

That is just not acceptable.

Acceptable toppings for fries include:

1. Nothing - Properly fried are good enough on their own
2. Salt - but nothing is so good it can't be made better with a bit of salt
3. Vinegar
4. Ketchup - Which is a combination of salt, vinegar, sugar, and tomato (sparingly please... too much and a fry is just a ketchup delivery vehicle, with all of it's own flavor overwhlemed)
5. Cheese
6. Chili
7. Eggs (scrambled, fried, or poached)
8. Gravy (turkey, beef, or sausage)
9. Hot sauce including hot mustard
10. Other meats in savory sauces, possibly including cheese.

Please take note, mayonnaise is not among these options.

Corollary to that for midwestern/northwestern Americans... Fry sauce is mostly mayonnaise, and is therefore right out.