Thursday, January 22, 2004

French Fry Diary 02: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Welcome to your grocer's freezer. Put on a coat. You'll be here for awhile. It's like walking in a winter wonderland so smile.

You should see many different kinds of frozen fries in boxes or bags here. This is a good time to go over the wonderful variety of French fryish products there are out there. They are mostly by Ore-Ida, McCain or this particular store's own brand. Ore-Ida is the biggest of the fry brands. They tend to add more spices to their stuff. McCain tends to add that patented "Invisicoat" a clear coating batter used to provide crispness and longer shelf life. Store brands usually are just generic versions of what the big guys produce. Beyond the different brands there are about a zillion varieties. Here's a quick rundown of a few:

REGULAR CUTS - Just that. The standard size fries we all know and love. They are a half -inch thick and about three to four inches long.

SHOESTRINGS - Slightly longer and a quarter-inch thick. What you traditionally get at McDonald's or Burger King.

CRINKLE CUTS - Just like regular cuts only with a wavy horizontal pattern on every side. Also come as pixie sized or shoestrings with crinkle cuts.

STEAK FRIES - Big planks. Typically an inch thick and four to five inches long. Can also come with a vertical crinkle cut or with skin on.

SEASONED - Usually regular cuts but covered with batter, pepper, paprika and other such zesty spices. Other flavors include cracked black pepper, fajita, hot, jalapeno and sassy salt and vinegar.

TATER TOTS - Inch long three quarter inch cylinders made of processed (chopped up) potato. Designed to be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Sometimes seasoned and sometimes with chunks of onion. Also available at half-sized.

NATURAL CUTS - regular cuts with the skin still on.

DICED - Also known as hash browns, potatoes O'Brien or breakfast potatoes. Diced into quarter inch or inch cubes. Sometimes include onion or pepper bits.

WEDGES - Just like they sound, steak fries-sized three sided wedges of potato with the skin still on.

FAST FRIES - Amazing shoestrings coated with a magic chemical which allows them to cook in an oven three times faster than other French fries. So named for fast food fries.

CROWNS - Flat inch wide coins or medallions of the same consistency as Tater Tots.

CRISPERS - Like Crowns or Tater Tots these are made from processed potato. Regular Cut-sized. Soft inside with extra-crispy bumpy shells designed for (what else?) extra crispness. The late great Tasti-Fries from Birdseye were of this variety with soft insides and crunchy vertical lines up and down the fry itself. Mmmmm, tasty.

TWISTS - Also known as curly fries, loops, corkscrews and spirals. Specially cut through the miracle of science into corkscrew shapes usually the width of shoestrings only much much longer. Sometimes seasoned and usually with the skin on.

CHIPS - Just your standard potato disc a quarter inch thick of varying diameter (one to four inches) usually with the skin on. Sometimes they can be crinkle cut. Pretty much exclusively for breakfast.

WAFFLE FRIES - Also known as lattice, criss-cross or gaufrette. Another cut of miracle proportions. Take a potato disc a quarter inch thick of varying diameter (one to four inches) usually with the skin on, cut the top like a crinkle cut then flip it and spin it, then crinkle cut that side for a criss-cross effect.

MATCHSTICK FRIES - Also known as allumette or potato sticks. Shoestrings an eighth of an inch thick.

BATTER FRIES - Usually regular cuts with a coating of breading or beer or corn batter that makes them have a more crispy outside.

SHREDDED - Tiny eighth inch strips of potato. Also known as hash browns because they can be fried into a hash brown-like patty. Usually served with breakfast.

HASH BROWNS - Patties of processed potato similar to long flat tater tots. Half inch thick, five inches long and two inches wide.

SHAPES - Processed potato shaped into various forms such as smiley faces or letters of the alphabet. Fun but rarely tasty.

Now all these types start from potatoes dug out of the ground, washed, steam-peeled, sorted, cut, blanched, dried, par-fried, shaken and frozen all before they get into our hungry hands in the grocer's freezer.

We'll stop here for the moment as you're probably freezing to death from standing in your grocer's freezer. Keep in mind though the cold is your friend. Without it your fries wouldn't be able to stay fresh for you so long. Ah, the miracle of science.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

French Fry Diary 01: Write What You Know

"Write what you know." That’s what they always say. It’s good advice. A few years ago I decided to put it into practice. What did I know?

I knew music. My short but agonizingly bizarre career in rock journalism is a story much too long and horrifying to relate here. The less said the better. Suffice it to say Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne are lovely people and metal bands that travel in mobile homes are usually rapists and arsonists. There has to be something else I know.

I knew movies. I know so much about movies I was able to parlay it into running my own video store and eventually working for the home office. Ask anyone. I’m a vast warehouse of useless knowledge. I love movies and I have harsh opinions and very precise likes and dislikes and so have begun reviewing the damned things.

I knew comic books. I have more than I want to admit and I’ve probably read twice that. I know comics trivia even the trivia experts don’t know. I’ve tried to break into the industry with notable rejections (so perhaps I don’t know as much as I thought) and so I’ve taken the movie route and began reviewing them. It’s much the same contempt and praise involved.

What else did I know? Most of the crap I learned in high school and college went through me like a sieve so what else was left.

French fries. I loved French fries. Hell, I knew French fries. I was an expert, what didn’t I know about French fries? I could make them, I knew where to get the best fries, I knew where not to go for the bad ones. This was something I could do.

Write what I know.

I know French fries.