Recently at a backyard picnic, I was trading English lessons for French lessons with a 14-year-old boy, when he asked a great question: Why do Americans call French fries French fries? I had always thought the French had created this blissful marriage of grease and potatoes, but now I’ve discovered it might have been the Belgians: We aren’t sure who gets to claim this one.
In the 1600s, Belgians customarily fried small fish in a skillet. But when the lakes and rivers froze over in the winter and they couldn’t catch any fish, they sliced and fried potatoes instead. And voila – frites!
French fries were first introduced to Americans during World War I, when American soldiers were stationed in Belgium. Because the Belgian army spoke French as its official language, the Americans nicknamed their fried potatoes “French fries.”
It’s a hautley-debated topic, but I think the world will agree: We’re glad somebody invented this salty vice.
Our friend Baptiste came up with this recipe using his own potatoes, and Susan and I later tested it in her kitchen to ensure the directions were perfect. These potatoes will quickly quell your pang for something salty and crunchy, but without the grease bath. Cut them thin for a potato chip, or thick for a vegetable suitable as a side dish.
Baptiste’s Pomme Frites
1½ pounds (750g) new potatoes
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel Paprika
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Scrub the potatoes under running water, twisting to remove the skin (like you’re wringing a towel). You want to remove most of the skin, but it’s fine to leave a little intact.
Using a mandolin, slice the potatoes to about 1/8” thick (this will give you more of a potato chip texture -- if you want a vegetable side dish, try 1/4” instead). Be very careful with the mandolin! I recommend a rubber glove or wrapping your hand in a towel.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and stir in about 3 tablespoons of salt. Once boiling, add the potatoes and cook for 60 seconds (they should be tender throughout). While they’re cooking, lay out a clean dishtowel.
Using a spider strainer (or any other handheld strainer), transfer the potatoes from the boiling water to the towel, laying them out in a single layer -- they’ll dry almost instantly.
Brush one tablespoon of the olive oil on a baking sheet. Transfer the potatoes from the towel to the oiled baking sheet, again in a single layer. Brush the top of each potato with the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle with salt and paprika. Bake until golden and crisp (about 20 minutes but check on them after 12-15 minutes)
Recipe printed with permission from Susan Loomis On Rue Tatin. Please do not copy or reprint this recipe without written permission.