BELGIAN FRITES (for four)
It turns out that those wildly popular deep-fried potato wands, the source of a fortune for the McDonalds empire, may not be French after all. By some accounts, they were named by American soldiers stationed in French-speaking Belgium during World War I. In Holland you can buy them on the street, with mustard mayonnaise. Germans like them with mayonnaise, too. In Britain and Canada they are sprinkled with white vinegar, and Americans smother them with ketchup.
3 to 4 cups vegetable oil for frying
2 pounds Idaho or russet baking potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, rinsed and dried
salt to taste
- Pour enough oil into a deep fryer (a four-quart fryer with a deep-fat thermometer will work if you don’t have an electric deep fryer. In a pinch use a heavy pot that is at least 5 inches deep, a long-handled fried food skimmer or a very long-handled slotted spoon, and a deep-fat thermometer) to reach at least halfway up the sides of the pan but not more than three-quarters of the way up. Heat the oil to 325*.
- Cut the potatoes into sticks ½ inch wide and 2-1/2 to 3 inches long. Dry all the pieces thoroughly with a clean dish towel (This will keep the oil from splattering). Divide the potato sticks into batches of no more than 1 cup each. Do not fry more than one batch at a time.
- When the oil has reached the desired temperature, fry the potatoes for 4 to 5 minutes per batch. They should be lightly colored but not brown. If your fryer has a basket, simply lift it out to remove the fried potatoes. Otherwise, use a long-handled skimmer to lift out the potatoes. Be sure to bring the temperature of the oil back to 325* in between batches. At this point the fries can rest for several hours a room temperature until you are almost ready to serve them.
- Heat the oil to 325*. Fry the potatoes in 1 cup batches until they are nicely browned and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on fresh paper towels and place in a warmed serving bowl lined with more paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve. (If you are a perfectionist, leave some potatoes to fry halfway through the meal so you can serve a second fresh, crisp, piping hot batch. Never cover potatoes to keep them hot – they will immediately turn soft and limp.)
adapted from Ruth Van Waerebeek, Everybody Eats Well in Belgium