Strange French Fry Trivia
While the Belgians may or may not have invented the French fry, today, they do consume the most French fries per capita of any country in Europe.
In most of the English speaking world, thin cut and thick cut fries are called two different things, fries and chips, respectively. In North America, it is typical to simply call them all French fries and, when they are distinguished, it is usually just by adding an adjective, rather than using a completely different word: i.e. steak fries (chips), French fries, curly fries, etc.
In 1802, Thomas Jefferson had the White House chef, Frenchman Honoré Julien, prepare “potatoes served in the French manner” for a dinner party. He described these as “Potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small cuttings”. (French fries at a White House state dinner…. classy.) This is one of the earliest references to fried potato strips being referred to as “French”.
Steak fries, or chips, actually tend to have lower fat content than normal French fries, due to the lower surface to volume ratio.
Burger King’s French fries (and probably McDonald’s too) are sprayed with a sugar solution just before being packaged and shipped to the various franchise locations. This produces the golden color through caramelization of the sugar when it is fried. Without this, the fries would end up having about the same outside color as inside after being fried.
McDonalds is known to fry their fries twice, the combined time taking about 15 to 20 minutes. Once for cooking the insides and once for making them extra crispy on the outside.
Popular condiments to dip French fries in varies quite a bit from country to country. In America, ketchup is typically the dip of choice for French fries. In certain parts of Europe, mayonnaise is king. The British tend to favor malt vinegar for dipping their fries. The French themselves tend to just eat the fries straight as often as not. I personally prefer Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing with highly salted French fries.
Belgians, who are the world’s connoisseurs when it comes to French fries, occasionally will serve French fries with egg as a topping. The raw egg is cracked over the French fries immediately after the fries have been pulled from the fryer. This tends to mostly cook the egg, but leaves the yoke somewhat runny for dipping the fries in.
Cultivation of potatoes is thought to have started around the same time as the start of the Common Era, around 2000 years ago in Peru and Bolivia. It gradually spread from there throughout South America. These early forms of the plant were fairly bitter and tuber-like.
The word “potato” comes from the Haitian word “batata”, which was their name for a sweet potato. This later came to Spanish as “patata” and eventually into English as “potato”.
The slang term for potato, “spud”, comes from the spade-like tool that is used to harvest the potatoes.
When the potato was first introduced to Ireland and Scotland, it was met with quite a bit of resistance from Protestants there, due to the fact that the potato wasn’t mention anywhere in the Bible; thus, it wasn’t clear whether it was acceptable to eat, so they refused to plant them at first. The Catholics, on the other hand, chose to sprinkle them with holy water before planting, thus making them acceptable to plant and eat.
Potatoes also met with resistance when first introduced to Europe as a whole, due to the fact that the Europeans were convinced potatoes caused a variety of diseases and were also thought to be poisonous. Tomatoes also were thought to be poisonous by many, when first introduced to Europe from the new world.
Parmentier not only championed the potato, but he also was responsible for the first mandatory smallpox vaccination in France in 1805, when he was the Inspector-General of the Health Service under Napoleon.
Parmentier was also the one who invented the French dish, Hachis Parmentier, a variation of which is also sometimes called “Sheppard’s Pie”. Hachis Parmentier is basically ground beef topped with mashed potatoes and cheese. Variations on this dish include adding gravy, corn, or other vegetables.
In addition to the above, Parmentier also founded a school of bread making; was a pioneer in methods for extracting sugar from sugar beets; and heavily researched food preservation methods, including refrigeration.
During the 19th century, Ireland was almost completely dependent on the potato as the primary food source for most of its citizens. This lead to the catastrophic potato famine of the 1840s when a certain strain of fungus almost completely wiped out the potato in Ireland.
“To French”, in cooking, now commonly refers to cutting any food into long thin strips. The origins of this phrase comes from the late 19th century, so well after the term “French fried potato” was common.
The French term “frite”, for fries, indicates deep frying, whereas, in English, “fried” could mean deep frying, sautéing, or pan-frying. Probably for this reason, “French fried”, has come to mean “deep-fried” in English, regardless of what is being fried.
According to many of the “Belgian origin” supporters, French fries are called French fries because, during WWI, American soldiers were introduced to fries by the Belgians. At the time, the Belgian Army spoke French. The fries were called “Les frites” (which is French) by the Belgians and so the American soldiers took to calling them “French fries”. This theory is incorrect, for a couple of reasons. First, as mentioned, in the 1800s, Thomas Jefferson referred to fried potato strips as “frying potatoes in the French manor”. In addition to this, there is an American cookbook from the 1850s that specifically uses the term “French Fried Potatoes” to describe French fries; there are also numerous other references to “French Fried Potatoes” from the 1850s on, in the United States; these all obviously pre-date WWI.
Between the 1850s and 1930s, French fries were known more illustratively as “French fried potatoes” in America. Around the 1930s, everybody dropped the “potatoes” on the end and just called them French fries.