Thursday, September 4, 2008

Belgian fries and spice grinders, oh my!

This was dinner on Friday. This and the Tête de Moine cheese, and the cullatelo ham, and the heirloom tomato salad with buffala mozzarella. Accompanied by a Chateau Margaux eventually, but what you see there is a lovely Chablis, if memory serves.

It was dinner at midnight on Friday, because fries of this order are not a rapid affair.

First, you wash and peel very specific potatoes. In Belgium - where these divine fries were made a consumed (and the reason why I have been absent from the blog is because I was in the lovely flat land for a week)- the only potato for the occasion is the bintje. It's a big spud and I will try to find out what its American counterpart is.

Once washed, you peel, slice and chop to make fries - not too thin, not too thick. Then you rinse these raw potato strips until the water runs clear - you are getting rid of as much starch as possible.

In the meantime, heat your friteuse, a basic implement of any Belgian kitchen. I fear it will be a bit harder to find the simple electric deep fryer my brother-in-law has. I also haven't found the blanc de boeuf, or beef tallow or suet that apparently creates the optimal frite.

So here in the US, you might use shortening in a deep fryer, and wait for the oil to reach approx 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the oil is hot, gingerly deposit the potatoes in it - but make sure they have been drained and dried!

Leave in the hot oil for about 5 minutes, or until the edges of the fry are getting dark blond.
Take out of the fryer, and let rest for a minute, until the oil reaches between 350F and 370F.
When the oil has reached that temperature, put the fries back in.

This double cuisson is the secret of great fries. Fry the fries (!) for another 5 minutes or so, then take them out, place in bowl and sprinkle with fleur de sel and eat as soon as possible. Within ten minutes the fries will have lost their crunch, and trust me, this is the crunch of ages, the crunch that connects you to the essence of the potato and the brilliance of those Walloon or Flemish peasants* looking for something else to fry than small fish, and who thereby stumbled, magnificently, on the frite.

There is more to Belgium than fries, and I will share some of that in another post, but the fries, especially late at night and with home-made mayonnaise, were epic.

As for MB's spice grinding issues, I have two things to add.
First : brilliant idea of S to have two coffee grinders for these purposes. I will acquire second one asap.
Second: if you don't have rice, or if like Mark (and I) you are occasionally a bit spastic in the kitchen (how I loved his clumsiness this week!), a broken up slice of bread will do just as well, and you may save yourself the back-of-the-fridge / between the cabinets vacuum episode...

* as you know, or should know, the French did not invent the French fry - there is some legend about Waterloo and soldiers etc, but essentially, my flat-land compatriots fried potatoes since well before Belgium was Belgium, and if things continue as they are, they'll be making frites well after Belgium ceases to be Belgium. But the frite never was and never will be French. Flemish maybe, but not French.

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