While there’s still a contention on the origin of the French fry, Belgium remains the largest consumer of French fries per capita among European countries. According to those who believe that this food originated in Belgium, American soldiers stationed in Belgium during the World War 1 discovered this dish and named it “French fries” only because the dominant language of the country then was French.
Belgians love their French fries served with raw egg as a topping and they even have a French fry museum called Freitmuseum. Former President Thomas Jefferson introduced this delectable side dish to the US in 1802 when he asked the White House chef to prepare it the French way and called it the French fried potatoes.
Table of Contents
- The Cuts
- The Fry Styles
- Preparing French Fries: Four Ways
- Cooking the Fries: Three Ways
The julienne is a French cutting technique most commonly used for vegetables and it involves cutting food items into long, thin strips. A julienned fry is one that fits this description. Unless you have a restaurant-style fry cutter at home, you will wind up hand-slicing your own fries using a technique such as this. The official julienne measurements are 1/8” by 1/8” and about 2” in length. There is also the “fine julienne,” which is about half the thickness.
The batonnet is a step up from the julienne and will produce a thicker French fry. Translated from French, this means “little stick” and the batonnet measures 1/4” by 1/4” thickness. However, French fries can be and commonly are thicker than this still.
The crinkle-cut French fry has somewhat of a corrugated surface but you would probably describe it as wavy. Achieving this look involves special cutting equipment such as a crinkle cutter or a specially-outfitted mandolin, which would sometimes involve making two separate cuts. Major restaurant chains may use more sophisticated equipment and given the nature of the cut, these fries are usually thicker.
Maybe you have seen those round, smiley-faced French fries that are sometimes served at school lunches and family restaurants. A round-cut fry is a semi-thick, coin-shaped cut that can be fried but also comes to a nice crisp when you put it in this oven. The most popular style of round-cut fries is called a cottage fry.
The waffle fry, similarly to the crinkle-cut fry, uses equipment such as a mandolin slicer to create that signature waffle shape. It’s a cross-cutting technique that involves rotating the potato 90 degrees after each pass. Usually, these are anywhere from 1/4” to 1/2” thick.
Wedge-cut fries are, of course, wedges. These usually run the length of the potato, often being extremely thick on the outside but tapering to an edge as wedges do.
The Fry Styles
Also called Euro fries, bistro fries are the fries that you commonly find at bistros and homestyle restaurants. They’re thick-cut, often double-fried, and commonly served in paper cones or metal cups, though the presentation of these fries will certainly vary by restaurant. They are often fried twice for maximum crispiness and are considered by some to be the “ideal” restaurant fry. They’re simple, they’re tasty, and they pair nicely with the foods commonly served at bistros.
Boardwalk fries have a history stemming from the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. True boardwalk fries are hand-cut into long, square sticks and served thick and tangled in a paper cup or basket. Boardwalk fries are, of course, served on the boardwalk at stands and restaurants but some restaurants such as Five Guys have taken this fry style global. Cooking a great batch of boardwalk fries means nailing the cutting, cleaning, and cooking techniques that the quality of these fries is so reliant on.
Essentially, any fries can be carne asada fries as long as they are topped with carne asada (grilled flank or skirt steak) and garnished with cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and sour cream. Exact toppings will vary but these fries are found in a number of Mexican restaurants, particularly in the San Diego area.
Drizzling or melting cheese on top of a pile of French fries is an American thing and more specifically an American fast food thing. Cheap fast food restaurants typically squirt liquid cheese on top of your meal but other restaurants may actually melt grated cheese on top of a steaming pile of crispy French fries. Parmesan, cheddar, mozzarella, and swiss are all suitable choices but cheese is typically reserved for basic crinkle or julienne-cut fries.
Burger King popularized the chicken fries, which are simply pieces of chicken cut and presented similarly to a typical bag of French fries. Outside of that, these fries are not very popular.
Chili Cheese Fries
These are cheese fries topped with a chili sauce. Not only do restaurants often have their own chili sauce recipes but you will find loads of them online as well. Commonly, these include ground beef but you can also use ground turkey or chicken. Given that there is such a variety when it comes to chili sauces, there is no “right” way to make it. However, some sauces will certainly taste better than others.
“Chips” is the British word for fries but even potato chips could be considered a form of the fry. They are essentially prepared the same way but potato chips are sliced extremely thin and cooked entirely to a crisp.
Similarly to potato chips, cottage fries are round-cut potatoes that are about 1/4” thick. You can prepare cottage fries with or without the potato skin. These can be deep-fried or placed in the oven and they can be seasoned in a wide variety of ways, such as with black pepper, cayenne pepper, or other herbs. This is a very basic potato dish and sometimes “cottage” fries and “home” fries are used interchangeably.
Crinkle fries are the crinkle-cut potatoes that are deep-fried and eaten plain or topped with something such as cheese. For many, there is a certain level of nostalgia associated with the crinkle-cut fry. These fries were not only served in schools but also commonly kept in freezers of many childhood homes. You may have also recognized them in restaurants such as Shake Shack. Crinkle-cut fries are known for being “unnatural” because they were mass-produced using machines that made them all the same size and shape but this now applies to a great number of other products as well.
Curly fries are a widely popular kind of fry and they are commonly seasoned as well. They resemble a slinky and similar to this springy child’s toy, curly fries can be fun to play with as well, which is why they appeal so heavily to kids. While they may be normal thickness-wise, the curly fry goes on forever and may take multiple bites to finish.
Disco fries come from New Jersey and are also called Elvis fries, though some people simply refer to this as cheese fries with gravy. These were a popular diner food in the 70s that people would eat after the disco had closed for the night; they are essentially considered a drunk food. Disco fries are also a variation of the Canadian poutine dish but there are differences. Disco fries typically use a larger steak-cut fry and a thick, dark gravy with mozzarella cheese piled on top.
Home fries are almost exclusively a breakfast dish and when prepared well, they are a wonderfully soft and crispy French fry-ish meal that tastes great in the morning. They look simple but can be somewhat difficult to prepare. If you mess things up, you may get a mixture of crispiness and mush with some undercooked potatoes in between.
Newfie fries, from Canada’s Newfoundland province, are another variation of poutine. Here, crispy fries are smothered in a flavored and spiced dressing or stuffing and topped with a beef gravy. These are easily a late-night snack but there’s nothing stopping you from preparing for Thanksgiving either. Both gravy and stuffing recipes are heavily personalized, so you will find different-tasting Newfie fries all over the place.
Patatje oorlog translates to “war chips” and this is a fast food fusion dish common in Belgium, Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe. These fries are served in a cone with mayo and raw onions but the satay sauce is what really makes the dish stand out. The satay sauce comes from Indonesia and combines peanuts, turmeric, ginger, and chili, among other things. Some Patatje Oorlog may also include peanut butter for thickness.
Potato wedges are simply wedge-cut fries that are thick at the base and taper down to a point. These can be seasoned or covered with cheese, sour cream, bacon, and other toppings. The real trick is making sure that they are cooked correctly. Given their thickness, they are extremely easy to undercook.
Poutine is the famous Canadian dish that inspired the disco fries and the Newfie fries; similar to its counterparts, Poutine is largely a late-night drunk food. What sets it apart is that poutine is made with regular-cut French fries and a thinner gravy but the most important difference are the cheese curds. Cheese curds are a French-Canadian specialty and are used in the poutine dish as opposed to regular cheese.
Everybody likes to use different seasonings. Seasoned fries can boast a simple combination of salt and pepper or more spicy options such as chili powder or Cajun seasoning. Other seasonings commonly used for French fries include garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika.
The word “shoestring” is used to describe fries that are extremely thin and fairly long. Shoestring fries are typically cut to official julienne measurements but may even be thinner depending on where you go.
Compared to other fry types, the side-winding fries are a relatively new shape. They were designed specifically for the restaurant business as they offer an interesting look with excellent plate coverage. They are made by spiraling a potato and cutting it into pieces; they look as if a round-cut fry had been twisted and fried.
Many thick-cut fries are referred to as steak fries as this is essentially all that they are. They are thick, wide fries that usually still have the potato skin attached at the end. They are commonly seasoned and you will often see these at steakhouse chain restaurants.
Sweet Potato Fries
People love to make sweet potato fries in place of regular fries because they are the “healthier” option and there is some truth to that. Sweet potatoes are lower in calories and carbs and contain far more vitamin A than white potatoes. They will also cook more easily when baked in the often, though they may be more difficult to get crispy. However, you can essentially make any style of fries out of sweet potatoes.
The tornado fry is a spiral-cut potato that is put on a stick and fried. Tornado fries, similarly to other fry variations, are common at fairs. There are companies that specialize in the production of tornado fries but tornado potatoes are also a popular street food in South Korea as well. In both places, the tornado fry is brushed with seasonings and some varieties may have sausage stuffed in between the potato slices.
Can tater tots be considered a fry? All of the components are there: the potato, the oil, the deep fryer. “Tater Tots” is actually a trademark of Ore-Ida but has come to be a generic term to describe these little potato bites. These are small cylinders made out of grated potatoes that are deep-fried in a variety of different oils. They are also frozen to be a packaged good in supermarkets.
Waffle fries are lattice-shaped fries that also resemble a waffle in some ways. Waffle fries have been around for quite a while but the first waffle fry cutting machine was invented in 1979. Aside from looks, the holes in the waffle fry also mean that the fries can cook faster and more thoroughly. They are used perhaps most famously by the Chick-Fil-A chain, which sells 100 million pounds of them each year.
Preparing French Fries: Four Ways
Peeling the Potato
This stage of French fry preparation is entirely optional and skipped by many. Much of the potato’s nutrients exist in the skin but if you aren’t a fan, feel free to peel the potato before making your French fries. You will notice that many fast food restaurants have perfectly peeled, equally sized, and blemish-free French fries and this can come off as unnatural. As a way to achieve the opposite effect, other restaurants will serve their French fries with the skin still attached.
Cutting the Potato
Here, you will decide how you want your French fries to look. For home-cooked meals, this might be whichever way is the easiest. Mass-produced French fries are easily cut using machines and restaurants that cut their fries in-house will use a variety of different equipment. With a hand cutter, restaurant employees can cut a 50-pound sack of potatoes in a couple minutes or less.
You will find here a number of different potato cutters that can be used in both a commercial setting and at home.
Washing the Cut Fries
Naturally, you will want to wash your vegetables before you start cooking with them but ridding them of dirt, contaminants, and other undesirables isn’t the only reason to do it. In fact, washing and soaking French fries are done for reasons that greatly affect the outcome of the cooked fry.
You can go ahead and give the whole potato a good rinse but it may also be in your best interest to thoroughly wash and soak the uncooked fries after you have them cut how you want. Potatoes contain considerable amounts of starch and you can remove more starch from a cut potato than you can from a whole potato, peeled or unpeeled. Reasons for removing starch include better cooking quality and lower carb content.
Many restaurants that prepare their French fries in-house wash their French fries thoroughly. Doing this by hand may take a couple of hours that involve consistent stirring and agitation. You must also drain the dirty water and refill the sink full of fries with fresh water repeatedly. Other restaurants complete this process using a machine that agitates the fries and releases as much starch as possible in just a couple of minutes. Fries that have been cleansed of their starch will cook more evenly and thoroughly washing your fries will ensure that the outside doesn’t burn up before the inside cooks.
Some people refer to this washing process as blanching but blanching actually involves scalding your cut fries in boiling water prior to cooking. You can also do this after they have been cleaned to remove even greater amounts of starch. You will boil them for just a few minutes and then immediately place them under cold water, a process called shocking, which halts the cooking process. Blanching is widely used as a pre-treatment in the food industry, especially when it comes to mass production. Blanching reduces quality loss over time and prepares French fries (and other vegetables) for freezing or dehydration.
Cooking the Fries: Three Ways
Not every kitchen is equipped with the tools to efficiently fry food and when it comes to cooking French fries at home, baking may be the better option. You can easily fit several servings of thinly cut French fries on a baking sheet and place it in your oven. Depending on the cook time, these fries may come out nice and soft, especially if you are working with sweet potatoes. However, longer cook times will produce crispier fries and you can even brush your potatoes with oil to ensure that they crisp nicely on the outside while in the oven. There are plenty of French fry recipes out there for you to experiment with.
Deep-Frying in Cooking Oil
Likely the most common French fry cooking method, deep frying has produced some of the tastiest French fries of all time. Even though restaurants have powerful deep fryers with high-capacity fry baskets, you can still fry potatoes at home. Frying French fries at home may take a little bit of practice but the most important thing is that you are using the right oil.
- Neutral-Tasting Oils: Peanut, canola, vegetable, grapeseed, and safflower are all neutral-tasting oils that have a smoke point well above 350 degrees so you can confidently fry your French fries in any of these. You really want to pay attention to the smoke point of your oil as oils with too low a smoke point will burn before they are able to brown your French fries. An example of this would be extra-virgin olive oil.
- Oils with Taste: Other oils will have high enough smoke points to get the results that you want but they may impart some flavor into the finished French fry. Oils such as corn, coconut, and sesame are suitable for frying but if you aren’t interested in additional flavors, it would be best to use a neutral oil.
- Hydrogenated Oils: Hydrogenated oils produce crispier French fries.
- Non-Hydrogenated Oils: You can find non-hydrogenated oils such as peanut oil that are not only healthier than other options but will produce a light crisp on the outside with an inside that melts in your mouth. If you are one of those who enjoys extremely crispy fries, this is not the route to go.
Some restaurants and chefs fry their French fries twice; this is commonly done after a thorough soaking and washing period. People may double fry for different reasons and they may have different methods of doing it. During the first fry, you are essentially pre-cooking the French fries and you will do this for a couple of minutes. Moisture in the center of the fry migrates to the surface after the fries begin the cool and you get rid of this moisture during the second fry. The final result is a drier, crisper fry.
Restaurants that do this commonly prepare their fries in-house and they also have a developed method that they have perfected early on in their business. The quality of the first fry will largely determine the quality of the fry after the second and final dunk in the oil. Creating the perfect French fry is a combination of process and equipment along with, of course, the potatoes and the oils.