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Fried or baked, potato sticks make the meal

Thursday, January 31, 2002

French fries are known to many as "junk food." But you can find these crispy potato sticks everywhere from diners to five-star restaurants -- and let's not forget the fast-food chains.


Of course, you won't find french fries on the food pyramid, but so what? They taste good, so why shouldn't we indulge ourselves once in a while?

Before selecting french fries as our recipe of the week, we did a little research to determine how these crunchy strips of potatoes became known as french fries. Surprise, surprise -- we found several different versions. According to "The Great Food Almanac" by Irena Chalmers, french fries -- pommes frites as the French call them -- were a popular feature on the French table for many years before a pushcart vendor (in the late 1800s) came up with the idea of selling the deep-fried potatoes on the street as a snack. When a visiting Englishman tasted the deep-fried spud, he quickly returned home to London. There the french fry became pommes de terre a la mode francaise or alamodes for short. Alamodes were served with England's popular fried fish (fish and chips). But, according to "The Food Lover's Companion" by Sharon Tyler Herbst, the name french fry does not come from the fact that their origin is French, but because the potatoes are "frenched" -- cut into lengthwise strips.

We have two recipes for french fries -- deep fried and baked (for those of you who cringe at the thought of all that oil). Which variety of potato should be used? The low moisture and high starch content of the Idaho, or russet, potato makes it an excellent choice for french fries, although most French recipes call for buttery or waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold (we used Idaho for the deep-fried potatoes and Yukon Gold for the baked). Our french fries turned out just the way we thought they would -- crispy and delicious. How did we serve the fries? We made Pittsburgh steak salads, of course.

Alex Tuttle of Squirrel Hill was hoping someone would have the recipe for the french fries served at Le Perroquet in Shadyside. Sorry, we didn't receive a response, but we did receive a recipe from Helen Lamison of Carnegie.

French Fries
"Les Pommes Frites"

8 large potatoes
Shortening or oil, about 2 1/2 cups

Peel potatoes; cut in even 1/8-inch slices. Soak four minutes in ice water -- pat dry with paper towels.

Heat shortening or oil in a deep pot or deep fryer to 300 degrees.

Cook about 1/2 cup potatoes at a time until the potatoes are light brown. Remove potatoes and place on paper towel-covered cookie racks to drain.

Heat shortening to 400 degrees (add more shortening if needed). Return potatoes to fryer in batches and fry the potatoes until they're brown and fully cooked. Drain on paper towels again. French fries may be placed in the oven (325 degrees) to keep hot while the remaining potatoes are being fried.

Baked French Fried Potatoes

4 medium sized potatoes
Cold water
1/4 cup melted butter, oil or bacon drippings

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch-thick strips. Soak potatoes in cold water for 10 minutes. Dry potatoes well then spread in a single layer on a flat ovenproof pan or dish (we used a jelly roll pan).

Pour the butter, oil or drippings over the potatoes and stir until potatoes are coated. Bake about 30 to 40 minutes, turning potatoes a few times while baking. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon paprika.


Joan Taylor of Shadyside writes: "I lost a fabulous recipe from The New York Times food section on Ethiopian cooking and restaurants. Some ingredients were red and green cabbage, rice and shrimp. This is a fabulous one-dish meal. Your readers will love it if we can find it."

How about it, readers?

If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222, or e-mail to aburnett@post-gazette.com. Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number on all correspondence.

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