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French Fries and the Jersey Shore by Chef Charles Knight
There’s a bunch of Jersey people saying right now “Fuhgeddaboudit! I told you French Fries originated Down the Shore.” Not so fast, there is still a long standing highly contentious dispute between the French and Belgians about the "French” in fries. Belgian journalist Jo Gérard claimed that a 1781 family manuscript recounts that potatoes were deep-fried prior to 1680 in the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium. Gérard never produced the manuscript that supports his claim, which, even if true, is unrelated to the later history of the French fry, and the fact that the potato did not arrive in the region until around 1735.
In 1802, Thomas Jefferson had the White House chef, Frenchman Honoré Julien, prepare “pommes frites” for a dinner party. He described these as “Potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small cuttings”. The question still remains, when was "French" introduced to the word “Fries”? It has been circulated the term “French Fries” originated when British and American soldiers arrived in Belgium in 1914 during WWI. But in fact, the term had already become popular in America as early as 1899, in an item in Good Housekeeping which specifically references "Kitchen Economy in France": "The perfection of French fries is due chiefly to the fact that plenty of fat is used".
Here are the facts, you decide. Throughout the Gilded Age, from before the Civil War through 1900, the Jersey shore was one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. In 1894, while working as executive chef at Leland’s Ocean Hotel Resort in Long Branch, French Chef Charles Ranhofer designed the Original Spiral “Potato” Slicer for his famous “Pommes de Terre Long Branch” – later known as Curly Fries and dubbed “French” fries, made famous by entrepreneurial boardwalk food merchants throughout the Jersey Shore.
Ranhofer was born in Saint-Denis France in 1936 near the Belgium boarder, where the practice of deep-frying potatoes in fat was common. He was also the author of the Epicurean and the Executive chef at the famous Delmonico’s in New York City from 1862 to 1896.
Now you know a bite of the culinary history of THE JERSEY SHORE.
How to “French Fry” Potatoes
EQUIPMENT: Spiral Slicer, colander, 5 Qt. Stockpot, Induction Cooker, pierced serving spoon of sieve. High-temperature frying thermometer (if you do not have an induction cooker).
PREPARATION TIME: 30 minutes – makes 4 servings.
Note: Temperature and the type of oil are critical in the process of deep-frying. Regardless of hype and promotion, there is no such thing as a “Healthy Oil”. Oil is oil, and most are about 14g fat per tablespoon and 120-140 calories, with no nutritional value (look it up). What you need to know about oil is its “smoke-point” in relationship to the perfect temperature for deep-frying, 370˚F. The perfect fat for deep-frying remains to be lard, Crisco, or pure golden olive oil (Italian or Spanish) – all have the perfect smoke point range.
- 4 large Idaho potatoes – the longer the potatoes the longer the fries
- 4 to 5 cups lard, Crisco, or golden olive oil
- 2 tablespoons seasoned salt
- 2 tablespoons Fresh chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon Fresh chopped dill
The objective of deep-frying is to gently crisp the outer surface (caramelize; bring the natural salts and sugars to the surface to form a flavorful crust) of the food being cooked, closing the pores, so the inside of the food can be gently steamed from within.
The advantage of deep-frying with an induction cooker and a full-body induction stockpot, is that the temperature can be controlled at exactly 370˚F. When frying in the proper fat at 370˚F only a small amount of oil will be absorbed into the food. The food will be steamed from within, perfectly, without burning.
Drop the fries into the hot oil and fry, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to paper bag or towel, and set aside, about 5 minutes.
Place the fries back into the oil and fry an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown.
To serve, season with seasoned salt, parsley, and dill.