IMG_6422I am an unabashed francophile, but sometimes the credit for things thought of as French belongs farther north. 

The singer Jacques Brel? Belgian. Hergé, creator of Tintin? Belgian. Basketball player and ex of Eva Longoria, Tony Parker? Belgian. Jazz musician Django Reinhardt? Belgian. Audrey Hepburn and Diane von Furstenburg? Belgian. Martin Margiela? Belgian.

French fries? Belgian. Though there’s of course a dispute about that. All I will say is that, regardless of their origin, fries and chocolates are better in Belgium. 

Actually, potatoes and chocolate both came from the Americas (Peru and Mexico, respectively) and aren’t native to Europe at all. Back in the 1700s, potatoes were considered hog feed and in fact banned from being grown in France because they were thought to cause leprosy. A French scientist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier promoted potatoes, and they took off when they saved France from famine during a bad wheat harvest. 

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Initial cooking. Scary!

The wily Parmentier (who also was one of the first to get sugar from sugar beets and who ran a smallpox vaccination campaign for Napoleon) made potatoes desirable by posting armed guards at his garden. There’s nothing like making something hard to get to make people want it. Parmentier told his guards to accept bribes from people wanting potatoes. The guards disappeared at night so people could steal potatoes. 

If you see a dish with “parmentier” in the name, it has potatoes. Hachis parmentier is ground beef topped with mashed potatoes, similar to moussaka or cottage pie. Saumon parmentier is salmon topped with thin rounds of potatoes (layers alternated with cream).

Back to fries. When I first moved to Brussels and was looking for a place to rent, I learned that apartments came either fully furnished or so unfurnished that they didn’t have stoves, refrigerators or light fixtures. However, I visited a couple of apartments that had BUILT-IN deep fryers in the kitchen counters!!!! As if a stove is optional, but you can’t live without a fryer.

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Take them out when they make noise when shaken. Let them rest until the temperature of the fryer rises.

My husband is Belgian (and loves Brussels sprouts…and Belgian endive) and is genetically disposed to making some amazing fries. I have never deep-fried anything in my life, so I cede that territory to him. One day, we were eating dinner (steak tartare with fries) and the cooling fryer was grumbling loudly nearby in the open kitchen. And then it exploded. Grease went all over the stove hood, the stove, the floor, the ceiling, the walls, the sofa on the other side of the counter in our open-plan space. Total mess. It only reinforced my worst fryer fears.

Happily for me, he’s the expert. Here are some of his secrets to delicious fries.

Use beef fat; he likes the brand “Blanc de Boeuf.” It isn’t sold in France, so we smuggle it back from Belgium. Good luck with that part. However, it’s the most important thing, what keeps fries crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, without becoming soggy, which happens with oil.blanc-de-boeufYou can use frozen fries, but to get that crispy/moelleux (tender) combo, get thin ones. My expert likes allumettes, or matchsticks. Buy small packages so you don’t have leftovers—open packages in the freezer tend to collect ice and that will splatter in the fat, no matter how tightly you’ve sealed the package. Don’t waste money on fancy brands. Potatoes are potatoes….although we have friends who cut up fresh potatoes from their garden for their fries—that is another level of yum. Be aware that there are different varieties of fresh potatoes, with some marked for frites, some for the oven, some for boiling/steaming, some for rissoler (skillet frying like hash browns)… They have names like bintje (how Belgian is that one, and the kind for fries), charlotte, agata, franceline, manon, nicola, ratte, corne de gatte…it IS curious how many have female names!

Heat the fryer to 150 C (300 F). Plunge the fries in the fryer basket into the fat. Cook until, when you lift the basket and shake it, the fries make noise.

At that point, take the basket out (your fryer should have a way for the basket to perch above the fat, so the grease from the fries drips off and back into the fryer). 

Turn the fryer temperature up to 170 C (340 F). During this time, the fries get a rest. This is the second-most important tip after the beef fat.

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The second rest.

 When the fryer hits the right temperature, plunge the fries into the fat again for about two minutes—until they’re as golden or dark brown as you like them. Then let the fries drip/rest again before turning them into a bowl for serving, with a little salt.

The Belgians also love sauces with their fries. At the roadside friteries, which are somewhat but not always bigger than foodtrucks, the list of sauces is bigger than the main menu (which may include sandwich kebabs or the cholesterol bomb mitraillette (machine gun), which has fries IN THE SANDWICH). Here are some: mayonnaise; ketchup; cocktail (a mix of mayo and ketchup, often with whisky if homemade); tartare (mayo with herbs and pickles); andalouse (my favorite—mayo base with tomato, spices, garlic, shallots, red peppers and hot peppers); américaine (onions, tomatoes, white wine, cognac, cayenne and butter); samouraï (mayo, ketcup and harissa); pickles (cauliflower (!!!), pickles and pickled onions, honey, white vinegar, spices, mustard, ginger, curcuma and sugar); Brasil (tomato sauce with pineapple and spices). 

mitraillette
A mitraillette. There is a baguette, meat, and other goodies under the heap of fries.

At a friterie, your fries will be served in a paper cone, the sauce dumped on top, served with a little fork. Check out the pack-of-fries handbag, with its own little red fork, from Delvaux, the Belgian luxury-goods company (a Belgian Hermès, you could say). Don’t miss the so Belgian, so surrealist little film. Of course, the frite bag is named for Namur, said to be where frites were invented.IMG_6421

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34 thoughts on “Truth and Fries

  1. They look utterly delicious, and I loved the lesson even though a restraining order makes it impossible (still!) for me to even take a whiff of fried anything. Savor them for me! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to tell you that I underline every single word and statement you made! I sometimes (rarely and not because I don’t like them but because I like them far tooooooo much) do some allumettes in the oven (oven fries) and after having tried (over a loooong period of time, OF COURSE!) ALL big and small brands, I now simply buy the no-name product of the store, in my case it’s Auchan.
    And all the other Belgium specialties – yes, yes, yesssss….. Only Swiss chocolate is better than Belgium one 😉
    An exploding fryer? That sounds terrifying. When children, we had a small fryer but it wasn’t used much as we were 4 kids and 2 adults and the fryer was more a toy sized one, similar to the fries handbag. Stunning videos, btw. Loved them. BUT would never part with any money for such a tiny bag.
    My favourite sauce with anything is Sauce Tartare…. And the fries-sandwich made me want to throw up, so NO thank you. But each to their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Who knew there was such a science to good fries?!
    Your fryer explosion put me in mind of an incident here. I tossed a grocery (paper) bag of wreath cuttings into the fireplace, forgetting the empty spray can in the bottom of the bag. After a high pitched sound that caught our attention, it exploded, sending sparks all over our newly laid carpeting. Obviously, the pock marks remain.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. French fry sandwiches are popular in the UK, called a “chip butty.” Fries are also a popular addition to sandwiches in Pittsburgh. I tried it there and didn’t really care for it. I like the info on the various sauces in Belgium, but I was always known as the “weirdo” in the US for preferring mayo with my chips. Sadly my diet now doesn’t include chips.

    Thanks for mentioning Django in your list of Belgian celebrities.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yummy – I adore fries, they are my treat whenever I eat out, since I don’t deep fry at home! Have you ever had a chip butty?? It’s a British thing, two slices of white bread, buttered, with fries (chips in Britain) as the filling! You can have some HP sauce on it, or just a bit of malt vinegar… 🙂 Your husband’s fries look divine!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You don’t buy chip butties at any place that has a menu! Save of course, a van selling beside the road with a hand chalked board with variations of bacon, eggs ( fried) and tinned tomato butties.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I never gave Belgium a second thought beyond chocolate until I came to France and learned so many wonderful things hail from that land, including a great deal of talent and a particularly fine sense of humour. I love fries but reserve them as a restaurant treat rather than attempting to do them at home. Sounds like your husband is the man to have around the deep fryer!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, the fries in both Belgium and France are the best I have ever tasted. Sadly the thought of so fine a food squished between white bread does not entice me. I can honestly say I have never deep fried anything in my life. I would probably burn myself.
    Ali

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My mother used to make chips to go with the fish that we would eat every Friday evening. There were six of us in the family so the potato peeling, washing and slicing took time and was the job of the children. I had forgotten that until I saw your pictures, although our fryer/pot was not nearly as elaborate. Wondering what one would do with a small Delvaux handbag.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank goodness for Monsieur Parmentier! Having just returned from a trip to Canada, we noticed these odd little signs on the street reading, “ChipTruck”. We were having too much fun to look it up online; and discovered it meant that a stash of pommes frites was for sale nearby. We thought it might be some reference to wood mulch for gardens! In Quebec City, our AirBNB French-Canadian hosts recommended a place for poutine, and the fries were perfection–though it’s not something you’d want to eat every day! The resto is called “Frites Alors”, and our hosts were right on the money! I love the idea of a built-in fryer in your Belgian apartment…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. OH YES THE MAYO SAUCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!EVEN IN ITALY!!!!!!!DROVE ME BONKERS!!!!!!!!
    They LOOK DELICIOUS……….
    NOW DO YOU USE A PRESSURE COOKER LIKE THE ITALIANS DO?
    THAT SCARED ME!!!!!!!!
    BUT OH SO GOOD THE FOOD THAT CAME OUT OF IT AND SO EASY!!!!!!!
    XX

    Like

  11. I LOVE French fries and now that I know the secret of making the best kind I think I will try it. I typically do not fry anything, and I don’t let my husband fry things in the house, I hate the smell of grease/oil. Our butcher who is a former NY chef uses beef fat for the french fries they serve with the sandwiches in the adjacent cafe so perhaps we can aquire some from him.

    I can only imagine the mess from the exploding fryer, thankfully you were not burned. I am afraid to cook with a pressure cooker and frankly I have a Instant Pot which I received for Christmas but it scares me to. I will stick to my cast iron skillet and other manual tools.

    Have a great week!

    Liked by 1 person

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