If there is an ingredient that patently symbolizes the phenomenon of early globalization, it may be the potato. The potato is a starchy food, a tuber of the plant solanum tuberosum, and is a root vegetable native to the Americas. The potato was originally domesticated in present-day southern Peru, and the extreme north-western part of Bolivia approximately 7,000–10,000 years ago. There are about 5,000 potato varieties worldwide, but about three thousand of them are found in the Andes alone, mainly in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Colombia. Potatoes were introduced to Europe from the Americas by the Spanish in the second half of the 16th century, and from there to the rest of the world. The English word potato comes from the Spanish patata (the name used in Spain). The Royal Spanish Academy says the Spanish word is a hybrid of the Taíno batata (‘sweet potato’) and the Quechua papa (‘potato’). The name originally referred to the sweet potato although the two plants are not closely related. Today, potatoes are a staple food across the planet and an integral part of much of the world’s food supply. In the United States, Russet potatoes (Russet Burbank) are considered the ‘standard’ potato to make french fries (chips in many other English-speaking countries) and are widely available. Although medically associated with global obesity, cholesterol, and other health issues, who does not like fried potatoes from time to time? According to Maximize Market Research: “French fries are very much a trend because it is the most likable snack around the globe in all types of age groups. Ready to consume, frozen food demand is up 53% year over year, with frozen potatoes up 42%.” And “the North American region is expected to hold the highest share in the french fries’ treatment market.”
Where did french fries originate?
We know of the American origin of the potato but, are french fries actually French? It seems that Thomas Jefferson already had “potatoes served in the French manner” at a White House dinner in 1802. Additionally, food historian Pierre Leclercq asserts that “it is clear that fries are of French origin”. Fries are first mentioned in 1775 in a Parisian book, and the first recipe for modern french fries is in the French cookbook La Cuisinière Républicaine in 1795. But, apparently, in 1673, Francisco Núñez de Pineda mentioned eating “papas fritas” in 1629, but it is not known what exactly these were. Thus, fries may have been invented in Spain, the first European country in which the potato appeared from the New World colonies. Professor Paul Llegems believes that “Saint Teresa of Ávila of Spain cooked the first french fries” and refers also to the tradition of frying in Mediterranean cuisine as evidence. Yet, the Belgian journalist Jo Gérard claimed that “a 1781 family manuscript recounts that potatoes were deep-fried prior to 1680 in the Meuse valley in Belgium, as a substitute for frying fish when the rivers were frozen”. Ok, stop!
How to cook the perfect french fries
Brasserie Les Halles was a French brasserie-style restaurant located on 15 John St. (between Broadway & Nassau St.) in Manhattan, New York City. Anthony Bourdain was the predecessor to the later executive chef of Brasserie Les Halles, Carlos Llaguno. The restaurant went bankrupt in August 2017. Anthony countless times referred to the french fries of the restaurant as the “best in the world”. We found Mr. Llaguno’s recipe on the internet:
Total Prep: Serves 4
What ingredients are needed to make homemade french fries?
4 Idaho potatoes, big, long ones
2 quarts or more peanut oil to fill the fryer (or pot)
What equipment is needed to make french fries?
2 large bowls
Deep fryer or heavy-bottomed pot Skimmer or wire basket (if using a pot)
Step 1: Prep
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch-thick sticks. Put them immediately into the bowl of ice water to keep them from oxidizing. Leave them in the water anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight, then rinse well in cold water to take out a large amount of the starch. (Putting the cut fries into water draws out the starch in the potato to the surface. In essence, soaking the potato slices in water is a key secret behind getting crispy fries.)
Step 2: Blanch
In a deep fryer or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil to 280°F and cook the potatoes in batches, about 6 to 8 minutes for each batch, until they are soft and their color has paled from opaque white to a semi-translucent white. Do not get impatient and yank them out early. Remove them from the oil with the skimmer or wire basket and spread evenly on the baking sheet. Let them rest for at least 15 minutes.
Step 3: Fry
Bring the oil up to 375°F, no hotter, no cooler. Fry the blanched potatoes in batches for 2 to 3 minutes, each, or until they are crispy and golden brown. Remove from the oil with the skimmer or wire basket and shake off the excess oil.
Step 4: Serve
Immediately drop the fries into the other large bowl, which has been lined with a clean, dry towel. Add salt to taste and whip out the towel. Toss the fries around in the bowl and serve while still hot.
(*) For me, it is crucial the potato is as fresh as possible. I like to cook them in a mixture of olive oil and canola and poach them with a lid on first (for about 20 minutes) over a low flame. Then, take off the cover and crank up the heat for another 10 minutes to achieve that perfect soft-crisp result. Salt them right away but serve them just warm (to get the most flavor out of them), never too hot!
Why Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos sherry is the best wine to pair with french fries
As is the case with numerous classic American dishes that we like to pair with sherry, other wines may also stand as good alternatives. The difference being that, while some individual wines may suit some of those flavors, sherry wines usually go well with all those dishes!
Champagne (and sparkling wines in general), crisp and fruity whites, lighter reds, Barolo (with truffle fries), to name a few, are all widely accepted selections to accompany french fries, depending on the extra ingredients you decide to supplement the potatoes with; abundant mayonnaise and/or ketchup sauce, dried herbs, garlic powder, grated cheese, truffle oil, vinegar, or anything else that sounds appetizing. But again, we can find a wine from Jerez to nicely complement any possible variation.
This time, we decided to fry our extra-crispy homemade french fries with a touch of vinegar, and season them with oregano and rosemary herbs plus a pinch of Pimentón Dulce (Spanish paprika) and they taste fantastic! To go with them, we poured ourselves a glass of slightly chilled Amontillado Los Arcos. Wow, the combination is astonishing, as alternating small sips of wine keeps you going, beautifully harmonizing with the pungency, starchy texture, and aromas of the potatoes. Give them a try and let us know!
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