Behind the French Menu
Last updated October 2016
French fries, chips.
Photograph courtesy of artemisphoto through freedigitalphoto.net
The perfect French fries, on their own, can be a culinary feast. The perfect French fry has no fixed size though French schools of the culinary arts do teach would-be chefs to cut them 5mm x 5 mm thick and 5 or 6 cm long. A good French fry is crispy and slightly crunchy on the outside; it will be colored a golden brown, and on the inside it will be cooked and tender.
French fries cooked in France have a distinctly different taste to those made using North American and UK recipes; visitors return home praising the French version but usually do not know the reason for that difference.
Photograph by courtesy of colonnade.
French diners and most French chefs still require, as does French culinary tradition, the use of graisse de bœuf, beef suet, beef fat, for frying French fries, and therein lies the basic taste difference. There are also parts of France, like south-west where graisse de canard, duck fat is used instead of beef fat. Vegetables oil for French fries is not part of the French tradition; if you are a vegetarian, you should check with your server before ordering French fries. If you are not a vegetarian but worried about your cholesterol then, like the French, enjoy French fries cooked in beef fat but eat less.
The French adopted their recipe for French fries from the Belgians. They soak freshly cut fries in cold water before frying them twice. I was told that the soaking reduces much of the starch on the outside, and aids in producing crispy fries. Frying twice provides that perfect crispy fry. To order a well-prepared steak to go with the fries see the post: Ordering a steak in France, cooked the way you like it .
The French Fry arrives in the USA.
According to a generally accepted tradition, the recipe for French fries arrived in the USA from France with Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson genuinely appreciated French cuisine, and while he served as the United States second Ambassador to France from 1785-1789 he had one of his slaves trained by a French chef.
.In the USA Jefferson chaired the committee that wrote the US constitution, and long before he became Ambassador to France he had already spent many years in France serving the USA before its independence. Those years included working with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Paine; all of whom all took part in writing the USA Constitution. These four famous Americans also contributed to and gave to the French writers of their Constitution some of their own ideas. Apart from ideas for the USA constitution certainly Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson also took home many recipes from French Haute Cuisine.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.
The memorial is in honor of the man and his work on the US Constitution, and not for bringing home the recipe for French fries!
Photograph courtesy of jcolman
A note on part of the US and part of the French constitution.
The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is, in essence, the same as the United States Bill of Rights, now called the first ten amendments to the US constitution. While Jefferson was the US ambassador to France the US House of Representatives adopted the US Bill of Rights; that was on August 21, 1789, and five days later the French adopted, on the 26 August 1789, their very very similar Declaration on the Rights of Man and the Citizen. There was no internet at that time for co-ordination; but both countries were new democracies, and the writers of the two constitutions had remarkably similar philosophical influences, apart from their many many meetings together over many years.
Thomas Jefferson and his import of French wines.
According to tradition, when he returned home, Jefferson had brought with him with 20,000 bottles of French wine! That and the recipe for French fries. Despite that tradition, I am fairly sure that most of the wine he brought home was in barrels; at that time wine bottles were hand-blown and very fragile.
Steak frites served with Sauce Beurre Maître d’hôtel
Sauce Beurre Maître d’hôtel is a thick parsley butter, a compound butter, made with added fresh lemon juice. Hard, flavored, butters like these are placed on a steak or slices from a roast just before serving; they flavor as they melt. They are often called sauces; however, they are not flowing sauces.
Photograph courtesy of Linda Theung
This blog is not a blog with recipes, it is a blog on how to order and enjoy French cuisine. For the best French fry recipes look at the many recipes available on the internet along with many excellent blogs on cooking, and, of course, do not ignore the many, excellent, cookbooks.
Along with menus offering pomme de terre frites, pomme frites or just frites there will be other menu listings offering variations of French fries on many menus:
Pommes de Terre Frites Belge – Belgian fries; the recipe for these produced the original French fries. In France, there are many Belgian chain restaurants selling the very popular and inexpensive moules et frites, mussels and French fries. These Belgian chain restaurants often do note Frites Belge; however, today, there will be little difference between well-made French fried and well-made Belgian Fries. Good recipes are for sharing.
A Belgian take on their own Frites Mayonnaise.
Photograph courtesy of MedPhotoBlog
In Belgium fries are not limited to restaurants or home, they are also a street food; eaten out of a paper cone whilst walking down the street with a side helping of fresh mayonnaise. You will also find this delicious fast food habit in Holland along with Holland’s own excellent fresh herring sandwiches.
Selling the favorite Belgian fast food.
Photograph courtesy of Isriya
Pommes de Terre Gaufrettes – Potato crisps or potato chips; fried to a crisp with a latticed decoration.
Pommes de Terre Mignonnette –A traditional French name for French fries.
Pommes de Terre Pailles – Straw potatoes or matchstick potatoes; these are the tiny French fries, up to 12mm long and 2-3mm thick. These potatoes are fried three times to make them especially crispy.
Pommes de Terre Pont-Neuf – A traditional French name for French fries. When these fries were originally made the cut was a little larger than today’s regular fries and on a French menu today the name today generally indicates larger sized French fries. Ask if is important to you. A bistro waiter in Paris told me that two hundred years ago peddlers sold French fries on the Pont-Neuf Bridge in Paris, and from that came the name; however, there no longer any peddlers selling French fries on the Pont-Neuf; but I know you can take a boat ride, up and down the river Seine, beginning at the Pont-Neuf.
Like many of the vegetables that are now an indispensable part of our diets potatoes originated in Central and South America. The Spanish conquistadors brought the potato home with them from their first trip, and the French received their first potatoes less than two years later. The French, initially, like many others, considered potatoes toxic, and it took another two hundred years until that falsehood was overcome. The idea that potatoes were poisonous was possibly due to French citizens going to a nasty chip shop I knew in England, or at least one like it! Their chips were really “to die for!”
The most popular potato in France for cooking French Fries.
Pommes de Terre Bintje – The Bintje potato; the most popular potato in France and probably the rest of Europe. This is the potato that most restaurants in France will use to make your French fries.
As its name would suggest the Bintje potato’s origins are Dutch, it is pronounced Ben-Jee. This is a potato, created by a cross achieved in 1906 by a schoolteacher who was also a botanist; that teacher, Kornelis Friesland, used potatoes to demonstrate genetics to his pupils. The Bintje potato he named after one of his star pupils, a young Dutch lady called Bintje Jansma.
Here the French Fries are served with mayonnaise in the Dutch manner.
Photograph courtesy of @10.
The Bintje was a good tasting potato, and by 1910, the Bintje potato reached the number one spot in Holland; within a few more years the Bintje became the most popular potato in Europe. The Bintje is also well liked in North America; but, overall, North Americans prefer ; the Yukon potato, it is a larger and whiter potato, the Yukon, like the Bintje, is the result of a cross.
Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2011, 2013, 2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman