My thanks to dear friend Anna Harrison for contributing this post. I’ve had it for ages, and I’ve just now gotten around to publishing it. My apologies. It was my original intention to try and make these frites in my own kitchen and photograph the process, but I knew I would never get the flick of the wrist right. So I’ve drawn a picture instead. My attempt to capture someone else’s memory. Faulty at best, but done with love.
My mother made the absolute best french fries on earth, I don’t care what you tell me. The taste was completely different from any other I’ve ever had and I’ve tasted a few. What did she do differently? Nothing particular about the potatoes, she just bought regular ordinary old potatoes, the big ones, though not the baking kind. No, it’s just that, well, she knew how to cut them first of all. The French don’t just peel and cut them in long french fry-looking strips. They peel, then insert the blade of the knife into the potato and then sort of twist the wrist upward, cutting just the right amount off to form the french fry, or rather frite.
Okay, and then there’s the oil. I think in France they use vegetable or olive, but my Mom used peanut oil. (Is it healthy? Probably not.) So she heated the oil in the frying pan, about an inch or so of it, and then when it was nice and hot (you test it by tossing in one small frite and if it starts sizzling right away you know the oil is hot), she gently placed the potatoes into the oil in handfuls until they were all in there.
Once they started to turn lightly brown, she scooped them out with one of those flat round thingies with holes in it, allowing the oil to drip out with each scoop, and put them into a colander over a paper napkin and just let them sit there for a minute or two. Then plop back into the oil again where they finished browning and became just the right caramelly shade and needed to be removed to the serving bowl, scooping them out the same way as before. Then a dusting of salt and onto the table. Amazing: toasty on the outside and just the right semi-softness on the inside. The delicious flavor of the potato, like no other.
NOTE: I first published this post with an embarrassing error in it. I used “Hines” as Anna’s last name instead of “Harrison.” Long story. Wrong has been righted. Sorry, Anna. Old habits die hard.