Is there anything more humble than the simple French fry? Every fast-food place has them, and there are a dozen varieties of frozen fries in the grocery store. They are dunked in sweet red ketchup, all too often served limp and uninteresting and treated, at least in the USA, with little respect.
In Europe, it is a different matter altogether. The magical French fry is a thing of glory and is often eaten alone, no greasy burger required. That’s how good properly made French fries can be. But it’s more than an attitude. Good fries, really good fries, take time to make, a commodity far too many American cooks are short of.
I do not know who invented this recipe. American GIs brought the recipe back from Belgium after the First World war, so it really isn’t French at all. I found the recipe in an MFK Fisher book, I don’t remember which, but Anthony Bourdain also used it, and included it in his marvelous cookbook Les Halles (pronounced lay al). This recipe really is good enough to be served alone. Make sure to use Russet or Yukon gold potatoes.
Here’s the recipe: cut the fries and place them in ice water for 30 minutes, then rinse. Heat oil in a deep fryer to 280 F, cook the fries in small batches for 6 to 8 minutes, drain, then let rest for 15 minutes. Increase the heat in the fryer to 375 F, then cook in small batches, for 2 to 3 minutes, drain, salt, and serve immediately.
It really is very important to serve your lovely fries as quickly as possible. Fries get soft and mushy very quickly. When I make them for guests, I serve them immediately from the fryer to the table. It’s a big deal.
I am not much of a fan of ketchup, but I do love a good mayo, and making your own, if you have the right equipment, is a snap. What you will need is an immersion blender and a container that is just wide enough to accommodate the head of the blender.
One egg, one cup of good oil (canola or EVOO), a little lemon juice, a dab of Dejon mustard, and a little salt. Combine all the ingredients in the container, blend with the immersion blender in pulses at first, then go full blast. In less than one minute, it will start to kick (thicken). Mayo is a classic French sauce and should be served thick. Do not over-blend or it will break.
Another option, which I actually prefer, is to combine egg, oil, and fresh saffron that has been soaked in water for a few minutes. It really is a delightful accompaniment for crispy, salty fries.