French fries are known as such because thin strips of vegetable are known as julienne in French. Julienne potatoes doesn't exactly roll off of most American tongues, and thus such potatoes were referred to as French-cut. French-cut further devolved into just French, giving us French fried potatoes. Since potatoes were accounting for most all of the French fried products, potatoes was dropped, and fried was morphed into fry.

Giving us the french fry.


This is the etymology as I understand it. Please let me know if you have corrections.

The Instant Fries* Formula
(or how fast-food chains make millions of "French fries" identical)

In order to guarantee a consistent taste and quick prep time, a fast-food chain puts all of its potatoes through the same preparation process:

Even before any potatoes have even been planted, the company agrees to buy a farmer's entire crop. It also specifies the type of potatoes and their growing conditions, which include soil treatment and fertilizers. Specific varieties, such as Majestic, Maris Piper, or the Pentland Series, are selected for their keeping quality. Potatoes that are large and round in shape are preferred because they are clean, easy to peel, and little is wasted.

After harvest, the potatoes are loaded into refrigerated storage at 48 to 50 degrees farenheit, or 9 to 10 degrees celcius, in the dark. They are regularly inspected for freshness under these conditions. Potatoes are again inspected and weighed at the potato processing plant. The density of potatoes is an important factor, as it indicates whether potatoes have become soft inside. They are passed over sieves to remove any dirt and debris, and magnets and electronic detectors are used to remove any metal particles. After the potatoes have been washed, the skins are softened with alkali and removed with steam.

Next, potatoes are sliced into square-sectioned strips. Thin strips will cook faster but will become hard if overcooked (like the ones remain at the bottom after you've eaten). The ideal size for most fast-food restaurants is a cross-section of about 1/4 inch (6mm). The cut potato strips are blanched on a wire-mesh conveyor belt which passes them through a tank of hot water or a dilute solution of phosphate or citrate salt. This helps prevent discoloring. The cut potatoes are finally frozen, bagged, and packed into cartons and kept at -4F (-20C) until collected for delivery to the fast-food outlets in refrigerated vans.

Within just minutes of being removed from the McDonald's freezer, a bagful can be soaked in lard, deep fried, and ready for you to eat. Yum.

*called chips in some other parts
adapted from Reader's Digest's How in the World?

"The French Fries" is the nickname given to a piece of public art adjacent to the Marston Science Library at the University of Florida, officially named "Alachua." It consists of elongated rectangular prisms, grouped in two clusters on either side of the walkway toward Turlington Plaza and Century Tower. Each cluster looks something like a three-dimensional asterisk, and both are painted yellow. Of coruse, it gets its nickname from its resemblance to a pile of french fries.

At orientation, every incoming freshman is told that the french fries are a popular meeting point. They are—for computer science students, as the CS building is adjacent to the sculpture.

I have long held a burning inner desire to get a large piece of red fabric and ketchup those fries. College pranksters, however, are not in force at UF...

Commercial French Fry Production
Or: The Ignominious Death of a Potato

Nearly half of the potatoes grown in the United States of America this year--over 3 million metric tons--won't end their days honorably, as baked, scalloped, mashed, or even boiled.

Instead, they will be subjected to a most extreme and shameful industrialized demise in order to satisfy the greedy, grease-driven, fried and fast food craving of the increasingly hungry and ignorant consumer, screaming for an answer to his frustration with the state of vegetable preparation and side dishes.

The french fry companies don't want you to know what they do. And some of what you find here may shock you. But only by exposing the truth can we hope to change it.

Potatocism

Some spuds make better fries than others. Stateside, most of the victims come from the following families:

In Britain, it's the Pentland Dell. On the Continent, the Bintje. You can make fries out of other potato varieties as well, but these are favored for specific qualities that put them at higher risk for french fry manufacturing. The favorite--the Idaho Russet--has a naturally mild flavor, easy to manipulate with additional seasonings and additives.

Poor, impressionable, Idaho Russett.

Once the potatoes have been rounded up, they are packed tightly into sacks and crates, then stuffed into trains for shipment across the country to processing plants.

Not all of them will survive the journey.

Upon Arrival

The first inspection separates the weak, useless potatoes from the healthy. Inspectors look for solid content and sugar content, dividing the potatoes into grades for processing. Mushy, older spuds are immediately discarded or set aside for other-than-fry use. If a potato passes the inspection, it is stripped and sent to the showers.

The mass-peeling of potatoes involves a large tank into which massive amounts of steam are introduced under very high pressure. After a sufficient amount of time, the pressure is suddenly released, and the skin virtually flies off as a result of the change.

The potatoes are then thrust half-naked before a bank of high power water jets that flay off any remaining skin and dignity.

The industrial potato killing complex then actually recycles the stripped skin of its victims for cattle feed or runs them through another process which produces methane and offsets the company's energy costs. A second scrutiny delivers more potatoes to another ignoble end; they are mascerated, reduced to starch for use in adhesives and paper-making.

A sickening and cruel efficiency.

A Potato No More

The 'french' in french fry comes from the process of slicing, not the country of origin. This is the end of the potato as you know it; the division of its body into thin, convenient strips.

But they are not just quietly slicing up one or two potatoes. They are cutting millions of them, and it will take more than a few sharp knives to get the job done.

The last vision in a fry-potato's eye is that of a rack of stationary vertical blades rapidly getting closer as the potato is shot out of a centrifugal pump-based cannon at 50 miles per hour. The Lamb Water Gun Knife is one of the original and best.

Look Again

The thought of having to go through the remains of all those potatoes is simply too much for human contemplation; therefore, the modern age has set machines to the task, sending the raw fries through another, computerized inspection at the rate of a thousand strips per second.

Any further defects are detected by the remarkably accurate and thorough automated process, which sends the approved strips along and assigns the rest to masceration or compression into tater-tots elsewhere in the plant.

I understand if you are overwhelmed; but try to remember, it really stopped being a whole potato as soon as it hit the knives. Its body is still here, but its spirit has moved on. The rest is just debasement of the corpse.

Ours Is But to Do and Fry

The strips of former potato must now be transformed into a uniform, equally tasty army of fries; thus, all remaining physical traces of a potato's idenity are wiped out by the process of blanching.

The strips are run on a conveyor belt through a series of vats containing mostly hot water. Temperatures are regulated as the strips go through to produce a consistent color and sugar content, so that each fry will taste and look the same.

Following the blanching is the drying process, a simpler affair involving massive heaters removing between 25 and 40 percent of the water in a given strip. Different ends require different means; a deep-fried fry wants to be 75 percent water, while an oven-cooked job needs only 60 percent.

Suspended Animation

The strip, now merely a slender shadow of its former potato self, is almost ready for reemergence to the world as a tool of the mighty food industry. But before it can leave the plant, it must be able to survive the trip.

They were not so worried about them on the way in.

First, the strips are cooked in oil for about ninety seconds; the process is called 'par-frying', which as you may have guessed is short for partial frying. They are at this point neither living nor dead, and it is now that they are labeled with a new identity through the addition of supplemental flavoring. McDonald's, for example, adds beef flavor to their fries, brought to you courtesy of a highly protected and secret recipe cooked up at a usually undisclosed industrial flavoring facility.

Such is the way a particular, unique potato becomes the emotionless drone of a specific food company, and at the summit of its agony, it is held in that horrific moment by the blast freezing process, a 40 degrees below zero chill factor that locks in the torment and flavor.

From there, it is back to the box, and into a restaurant or freezer near you.

So think about that the next time you Biggie-Size.


Tallow to:
www.tx7.com/fries/docs/production.html
www.mcdonalds.com/countries/usa/food/foodfacts/frenchfries.html
www.fas.usda.gov/htp2/highlights/1998/98-03/fries.html

So much detail put into industrial french fry manufacturing processes and yet no directions as to how an enterprising gourmand would make them for themselves? For shame.

Deep frying has a bad rap, deservedly so from a heath perspective, but come on. Nothing is tastier on a late spring afternoon than a burger with homemade fries.

This is my father's recipe, which is probably as simple as you can get. The equipment, however, is less standard but pretty damned important. so here goes.

You'll need a large cast-iron pan with high vertical sides to, you know, keep the oil in. You'll also need a thermometer, a metal slotted spatula or metal tongs, paper towels and a small pile of newspaper.

Some notes on this stuff: Cast iron is best because you're going to be heating the oil to a very high temperature and cast iron stands up to that best. You'll need a multipurpose kitchen thermometer - a meat thermometer won't do you any good because most of them only go up to 200-something degrees Fahrenheit and that's not gonna cut it. And you'll need a metal slotted spatula because the slots will let the excess oil out and the metal won't melt in the oil. You'll also need some frying oil (corn, vegetable or peanut, not olive. Olive oil will burn before you get it to a high enough temperature) and, I guess, some potatoes.

Skin your potatoes if you want (I don't), slice 'em how you want 'em and leave them in a bowl of ice water for 45 minutes or so - this will wick away some of the potatoes' starch and make 'em crispier when they actually go in the oil. Pour about three inches of oil into your pan, and heat it to 325F over medium-high heat. Don't crank it all the way, as you want to make sure it heats relatively evenly. You don't have to stir it, but keep an eye on it.

heating oil always scares me, and it damn well should scare you. It's probably obvious, but for the record: be careful. hot oil can cause serious damage to you, to your pets, to your children and to anything else it comes in contact with. Don't ignore it and stay clear and please, for the love of all things holy, keep your utensils clean and dry - clean so that whatever might be stuck to them doesn't contaminate the oil and dry so the oil doesn't spit when you're fishing around for the potatoes.

There are some tricks to knowing when the oil's ready if you don't have a real thermometer, but most of those, like flicking some water (or, if you're my father, spit) into the oil to see if it bubbles on contact, are imprecise or gross. Those tricks are good at telling if the oil's hot enough, but bad at telling if it's too hot - overheated oil will burn the outsides of your fries before the insides are done, and it's best to avoid that.

Once your potatoes have soaked and your oil's at the right temperature, pat them dry with a paper towel and gently slide them into the oil. They'll spit like mad, so stand back. You're going to have to do this in batches to make more than a single serving of fries, but you're not cooking them for that long and you'll get into a groove fairly quickly. Fry the potatoes for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently. When they've reached a golden-brown (which can be hard to judge right, but you'll get the hang of it) pull them out.

You're not done yet: the trick to good fries is to fry 'em twice. Crank up the oil's temperature to 375F. Once it's there, drop your fries back in for 2-3 minutes. The second frying will crisp the outsides of the fries to keep 'em from getting mushy. Pull them out and drop them into a thick rolled up cone of newspaper. The newspaper will absorb the surface oil without pulling the oil out of the centers of the fries, leaving them moist.

Salt prodigiously and serve immediately. A potato and a half will comfortably serve one person, so multiply as required. And if you have a massive coronary, it ain't my fault.

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