French fries are one of my comfort foods. Please don’t lecture me! Blame it on my mother, God rest her soul. Every so often, she would indulge us with homemade French fries. Crinkle cut fries that she would deep fry in Crisco, drain on a ripped up brown paper bag and generously sprinkle with salt. Just thinking about them makes my heart ache for my mother and my stomach ache for her fries.
Did you know that July 13 is National French Fry Day? I wonder who thought that one up. I couldn’t find the answer, but I did come across some French fry (and potato) trivia.
- Potatoes are the number one vegetable crop in the United States, according to the USDA.
- Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania used to produce the most potatoes. Today, Idaho is at the top of the list.
- Where did French fries originate? One story is that during World War I some American soldiers were in Belgium where they ate fried potatoes. Because the dominant language in that area was French, they called the potatoes French fries.
- But then again, maybe they did originate in France. Apparently, street vendors sold fried potatoes in Paris in the 1780s.
- The soldiers in Belgium may have given them their Americanized name, but credit for introducing fried potatoes to this country usually goes to Thomas Jefferson. He first tasted them when he was American Minister to France from 1784 to 1789.
I found this recipe for fried potatoes on the Thomas Jefferson Foundation website. It comes from The Virginia House-wife, a recipe book published in 1824 by Mary Randolph. Her brother was Jefferson’s son-in-law.
Peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peal a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping. Take care that your fat and frying-pan are quite clean; put it on a quick fire, watch it, and as soon as the lard boils and is still, put in the slices of potatoes, and keep moving them till they are crisp; take them up and lay them to drain on a sieve; send them up with very little salt sprinkled on them.
At least my mother didn’t fry her potatoes in lard! I asked registered dietitian Kitty Broihier if there were any ways we could still enjoy some tasty fries but make them a bit healthier. Even she admitted to a weakness for french fries.
Who doesn’t love a good French fry? I know I do, though I try to limit it. Restaurant fries sometimes seem like they’re just crispy vehicles for salt and fat, but it doesn’t have to be that way! It’s not difficult to make healthful fries at home in your oven, saving yourself plenty of fat and sodium.
Kit has a couple of baking tips to keep in mind:
- Cut the fries all about the same size to promote even cooking. A mandoline works great for this, but it’s not essential.
- Always pre-cook the cut potatoes before roasting them. A short boil of 3 minutes or so will bring some starches to the surface; this will help the exterior of the fries bake up crispier. It also helps ensure that the inside of the potato is cooked at the same time the outside is nicely browned.
- An alternate method is to simply soak the cut potatoes in hot water for 10 minutes (no boil needed). Let the potatoes drain on a clean kitchen towel and blot them lightly with paper toweling or another clean towel to remove excess water.
Use a minimum of oil to gently toss the dried potatoes (2 Tbsp per 1 1/2-2 pounds of potatoes should work), then spread them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Do not crowd them.
Go easy on the salt and consider sprinkling your fries with other seasonings prior to baking: smoked paprika, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, crushed rosemary and dried parsley, or your favorite salt-free seasoning mixture. Or, after baking, try a light dusting of nutritional yeast or even Parmesan cheese for more flavor.