Homemade, Better-Than-French Fries

Belgian frites, also known as Belgian fries, are easy to make and the best part is you can eat all the fries you want if you cook it yourself!

| December 2011/January 2012

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    Rinse your potato slices in water to remove excess starch.
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    Crispy, golden Belgian fries are easy to make at home with fresh potatoes.
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    Cut your own potatoes into irregular shapes for tasty homemade fries.
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    Homemade fries are tastier than what you’ll get at restaurants.

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Like many people in our country’s good-food movement, I owe a debt of gratitude to author Michael Pollan for helping put sustainable food issues at the center of America’s plate. But one thing I appreciate most about him is something for which he is known the least: He made the world safe again for fry eaters like me. Which is great because, as you'll soon see, I really enjoy Belgian fries!

I’m referring to rule No. 39 of his latest book, Food Rules, which states that it’s OK to eat all the junk food we want as long as we cook it ourselves. The rationale behind the rule is that we’re not likely to eat many Twinkies or Cheetos if we have to make them from scratch. The same logic applies to fries. Considering the work involved in peeling and cutting potatoes, frying them and cleaning up afterward, it’s not the type of project you’re likely to undertake often.

You may have noticed that I have carefully avoided adding the adjective “French” in front of the word “fries.” That’s because my wife is from Belgium, and it would create both a domestic and international incident were I to give another country credit for what the Belgians rightly consider to be one of their greatest culinary achievements. The origin of fries is a subject of debate, but nowadays, even the French concede that the Belgians have them beat. And it was Americans who gave them the name “French fries.”

To understand what I mean, you could travel to Belgium, where my family and I spent the past year immersing ourselves in the country’s food culture. There you will see that fries are not only a pillar of the Belgian national dish, moules frites (steamed mussels and fries), but they are indeed a way of life. If a trip to Belgium isn’t in your immediate future, however, you can get a decent idea of what I’m talking about by making Belgian fries at home.

Wherever you go in Belgium, you will find people of all ages and sizes eating their beloved frites or friet, as they are called in Flemish-speaking Belgium. Along with the Belgian monarchy and beer, frites are one of the few things that binds this multilingual, multicultural hodgepodge of a country together. They are to Belgium what the baguette is to France and pasta is to the Italians: the food of the people and a culinary symbol.

Knowing all of this helps put the potato-dominated layout of the typical Belgian kitchen garden into perspective. For not only do Belgians take pride in making their fries from scratch, many add an extra step to the recipe by growing their own potatoes. The official potato variety for Belgian fries is ‘Bintje,’ which accounts for nearly three-quarters of all the potatoes grown in Belgium. It’s worth growing these yourself (find seed potatoes by searching in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Seed and Plant Finder), but non-Europeans looking for an acceptable substitute can use ‘Yukon Gold,’ ‘Russet’ or another starchy variety.

1/8/2012 4:58:21 AM

I may try that sometime. The biggest problem I have here in the Philippines is getting suitable potatoes. There are no baking potatoes here, only "new" potatoes.

Frank Woolf
12/31/2011 2:13:37 AM

It is interesting that you say fries are a Belgian dish. I come from London England where since the days before television (possibly before cars) there have been fish and chip shops close to almost every cinema. English chips are 3/8" to 1/2" thick. Not little matchsticks. The problem they had was little business while the movie was showing then long queues when the movie ended. Fries get soggy if kept warm so they would partially fry the chips while the movie was showing then when the movie ended would dump the whole lot back into the hot oil to make them hot and crispy. This results in soft fluffy insides and crispy outsides. This is the way London fish and chips have been for a very long time. When I make London fish and chips I partially cook the chips, remove them from the oil and cook the thick fish fillets in beer batter, then remove the fish when cooked and dump the chips bak in the oil to make them cripsy. Server with salt, vinegar and pickled onions.

12/30/2011 3:48:38 PM

If you follow directions for cutting, but start the potatoes in a pan (I use a large, deep skillet) of COLD oil. Bring it up to temp and fry until desired color. Crispy, less oil absorption, gorgeous color, same fabulous results. I do mine on the side burner on my gas grill outdoors, so no oil odor in the house.

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