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The Crunchy Origin of French Fries

The Crunchy Origin of French Fries

Immerse yourself in the crunchy, tasty world of French fries, a simple dish steeped in history and culture. From the Franco-Belgian argument over their origins to their consecration as ‘French fries’ in the USA, this article explores the little-known facets of this popular dish. Discover what truly defines a French fry, follow its transatlantic journey, and amaze yourself with nine surprising facts that change the way you see these golden sticks!

French fries, often served as a side dish, are essentially fried potato sticks. They are distinguished by their crispy exterior and soft interior. But how are they prepared? We explain it all!

French fries origin
French fries origin @French Iceberg

Cooking Techniques

The traditional method of preparing French fries involves frying in two stages: a first cooking at a moderate temperature to cook the inside, followed by a second immersion in hotter oil to crisp up the outside. This technique ensures a perfect, golden, tasty fry. In addition, alternative methods such as baking or hot-air cooking have become popular, offering a lower-fat option.

For your information: in Belgium, this double-cooking technique is done with beef fat. French fries, on the other hand, are often cooked only once.

Seasonings and Side Dishes

French fries are always served with salt and condiments such as ketchup or mayonnaise. In France, it’s not uncommon to see them accompanied by a variety of sauces such as aioli, tartar sauce, or béarnaise sauce (béarn is also known for its French bérets). They are an ideal accompaniment to dishes such as steaks, mussels, and various sandwiches.

French Fries in French Gastronomy

Beyond their role as a side dish, French fries have a special place in French gastronomy. Contemporary chefs are increasingly reinventing this traditional dish, incorporating fries into more elaborate culinary creations.

The frite, an emblem of gastronomy in both France and Belgium, is at the heart of a long-running dispute over its origins. So which of France and Belgium invented the first French fry?

Paternity Dispute: France vs. Belgium

For years, Belgium vigorously claimed to be the father of the fried potato, elevating the dish to the status of a national symbol. On the other side, France, with its rich culinary heritage, defended its own version of the story. This gastronomic rivalry raises a key question: are French fries a Belgian or French invention?

The First Evocations of French Fries and Historical Reality

The story of this quarrel takes us to Belgium, where historian Jo Gérard discovered references to fried potatoes in the Namur region in a manuscript from 1781. This was interpreted as proof of the Belgian origin of the frite.

However, gastronomic historian Pierre Leclercq disputes this idea. According to him, these early references to fried potatoes do not correspond to our current French fries, but rather to thin slices cooked in a little fat.

This Belgian version of the story, although widely circulated, conceals the true origin of the frite. The confusion between culture and origin has led to an erroneous belief that is deeply rooted in the collective unconscious.

Just because there is a culture of French fries in Belgium doesn’t mean that the country is the origin. It’s true that in Belgium frites are eaten as a main course, often in cones, and not as a side dish, unlike in France. There’s a real culture of frites in Belgium.

French fries served as a side dish
French fries served as a side dish @French Iceberg

The True Origins of French Fries: Paris in the 18th Century

In fact, the French fry has its roots in Paris, in the early 19th century. On the Pont Neuf, doughnut sellers are said to have been the first to fry potato slices as we know them today.

Around 1842, Frederik Krieger, an immigrant from Bavaria, learned the art of frying in Montmartre. In 1844, he moved to Belgium, opening the country’s first “baraque à frites” and popularizing frites “à la parisienne”. The Belgians quickly adopted this dish, which became a key element of their culinary heritage.

From the White House in the early 19th century to the drive-ins of the 20th century, let’s discover together the epic story of French fries in the USA!

Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father of French fries in the USA

The history of French fries in the United States can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson. Ambassador to France in the late 1700s, he developed a passion for French cuisine, including “potatoes fried raw in small slices”.

After his return to the United States, he introduced the recipe at a White House dinner in 1802, marking the entry of French fries into American culture.

The popularity of “French fries” really exploded after the First World War, when American soldiers returning from Europe introduced them into the daily lives of their compatriots.

Drive-in restaurants and the rise of fast food in the 20th century then definitively established the place of French fries in the American diet.

French Fries in Fast Food and Modern Culture

Today, French fries are ubiquitous in fast food in the USA, often associated with hamburgers and hot dogs. They have also found their way into other cuisines, notably by being incorporated into dishes such as “French tacos“, a little brother to the Mexican taco but with fries inside!  The consumption of French fries in the United States is impressive, with statistics indicating an average consumption of 30 pounds per person per year.

“Freedom Fries”: The Political Place of French Fries in the United States.

A significant episode in the recent cultural history of French fries was the period when “French fries” were renamed “freedom fries” in reaction to France’s non-participation in the war in Iraq.

The name change, albeit temporary, highlighted the symbolic and sometimes political weight of this dish in American society!

Discover the surprising secrets of French fries, far beyond their simple crispy taste. From a museum in Bruges to their journey through space, French fries reveal some very unexpected stories!

  1. Frietmuseum at Bruges: Opened in 2008, this unique museum is dedicated to the history of the potato and its transformation into French fries. It also presents the importance of French fries in Belgian culture, notably in cinema, comics, art, and music.
  1. French fries in space: As a sign of solidarity after the Brussels attacks in 2016, French fries were sent into space by Radio Contact. Brussels also honored the dish by naming a passageway “de la Frite” in 2020.
  1. Record for the longest French fry: A Dutch team holds the world record with an 11.34-meter fry, set in 2019. This feat highlights the creativity involved in the preparation of French fries.
  1. French fries and health: French fries are the subject of nutritional debate due to their high carbohydrate and fat content. To address health concerns, alternative cooking methods, such as air frying, are gaining in popularity.
  1. Potato varieties: Many potato varieties are used for French fries. In France, ‘Bintje’ is popular, while in the USA, ‘Russet Burbank’ is the favorite.
  1. Festivals of French fries: Events like “National French Fry Day” in the USA celebrate French fries, showcasing traditional and innovative recipes, including sweet potato fries.
  1. Beer and fries in Belgium: In Belgium, the combination of fries and beer is a classic. Local breweries offer special assortments to accompany this dish, underlining its role in gastronomic culture.

Read also: French Apéro: The Art of Enjoying Life

  1. French fries and culinary innovation: From French fries topped with truffles to sweet chocolate-covered versions, chefs the world over are innovating with French fries, creating unique and sometimes surprising recipes.
  1. Environmental impact: The production of French fries raises ecological issues linked to the intensive farming of potatoes and the carbon footprint of the frying and packaging process.

You’re now an expert on the origins of French fries, mastering their history and multiple cultural facets, and ready to share these delicious anecdotes over a crispy portion!

Translated into English by Sacha