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French fries — deep-fried lengths of potato usually served as a side dish — range from elegant twigs to quarter-spud wedge steak fries.
Both France and Belgium lay claim to their invention, which was some time in the mid 18th-century. It is said that Thomas Jefferson served them at the White House. Soldiers returning from Europe after the first World War brought home a taste for them. It wasn’t long before they became a popular side dish, especially with hamburgers and hot dogs. Although they are comfortably plebeian, they also can be truffle-flavored swanky.
The frying oil matters most. Cooks fry them in everything from vegetable oil to duck fat. Fry aficionados will tell you they develop better flavor and become more crisp when first blanched, then fried. When they emerge from the hot oil they want at least a sprinkle of salt; pepper is a common addition, too.
As for condiments, ketchup reigns. Vinegar, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce and ranch dressing offer alternatives.
Although they usually serve as a side dish, in Chicago many hot dog joints include them in the bun. The legendary mile-high sandwiches of Primanti’s in Pittsburgh include fries as well as cole slaw along with meats, eggs, and/or cheeses. When used as the foundation for Quebec’s poutine, they become a major player along with the gravy and cheese curds on top.
They inspire all kinds of custom treatment: cheese fries, chili-cheese fries, loaded fries, garlic fries, Cajun fries, and guacamole-topped carne asada fries.
What are the different French fry shapes? Fries range from the basic baton to curly fries, waffle fries, spiral-cut tornado fries, skinny shoestring fries, thick-cut steak fries, and crinkle-cuts.
Curiously, in South Carolina’s Midland Valley, what the world knows as French fries are called home fries. The reason? The cooks actually cut them in the kitchen (“home”) as opposed to pouring frozen ones out of a bag.