Give French Fries the Spotlight
Fries. They’re possibly the quintessential American food, available from lowly drive-throughs all the way up to Michelin-starred hotspots. They are easily made from scratch, but also available in endless permutations in frozen form. The side to many a dish, sometimes for nearly every dish on a menu. But, if you look around, you might notice they’re no longer being confined to the sides list. These days you can find fries as a full blown appetizer, especially good to share, or as the star component of an entree. So, how do you move a staple dish out of the shadows and into the limelight?
For an appetizer, you could go simple. There is nothing wrong with a plate of fries all by itself. Maybe add a couple of cracks of fresh ground pepper and use coarse kosher or sea salt to dial up the visual impact. A little smoked paprika can add a little flavor and a dash of color. Maybe your own house “shake” comprised of cayenne, powdered garlic or onion, perhaps even Indian spices like Tandoori or galangal (a spicy ginger root from Indonesia) to impart an international feel. Truffle oil? Truffle fries popped big on menus a few years ago and people gladly paid a small premium for the pleasure.The problem: too many truffle oils are little more than perfume and taste less of truffle and more of chemical. Just say no.
On the other end of the spectrum: cheesy fries. Fries cry out for cheese and are a perfect match. Sharp cheddars, smooth jacks, maybe even a creamy West Creek Swiss. You might try a combination to create the perfect flavor for your guests, not to mention heightened visuals from the contrasting colors. A sprinkling of fine chopped chives can also add just the right touch. Or it could be the right platform to turn up the heat. Take your pick—anything from some finely diced chilies or the relatively mild jalapeño all the way up to a scotch bonnet or a ghost pepper could exactly what your fries need.
Nachos have been a popular dish for years but are also a source of disappointment. Cheese is naturally a little oily, especially when melted. How many beautiful nacho dishes have you been presented with only to find that much of the crispy tortilla chips have soaked up any released oil and are now floppy and more than a little unappetizing? Reimagine your nacho plate using fries instead and you might be surprised.
There’s also nothing wrong with a little smattering of meat. Ridgecrest bacon is good—smoky and rich, it holds up well to the crisp potatoes and the gooey cheese. For a more pure pork flavor, try Pancetta, an Italian version of bacon that is cured using only salt and pepper without nitrates or smoking. Shredded Roma prosciutto or virtually any other fine charcuterie can also work as a topping, not to mention being eye catching on the menu.
If you choose to go with a sauce, go sparingly. For fry nachos, try a little chunky Contigo salsa. For dishes with bacon or pancetta, maybe a dollop of Nature’s Best sour cream, possibly favored with Sriracha. Charcuterie might call for a mustard-based sauce while something more Asian-influenced may work with a sweet chili sauce. Often, with all the other ingredients, a sauce might be a step too far and make the dish a bit more of a challenge to eat without using a dozen napkins. Choose wisely.
Bumping fries from appetizer list up to entree is easily done as well. A fry skillet with the fries, melted cheeses, and a smattering of fresh chopped green onion can pair well with many proteins, especially when finished on the plate under a hot salamander or in a single-serve cast iron pan taken to the table. Bite-sized pieces of chicken, sautéd on high heat work. Perhaps some slow braised chunks of West Creek pork belly crisped under high heat just before serving. Or, if you cut your own meats, try searing up the tips and meaty scraps left over from your butchered tenderloin—have you tried fries with béarnaise? Your life really isn’t complete until you have.
The popularity of French fries year-round at nearly any style or level of dining is a constant. You could simply add the classic chili cheese fry to you menu and be done, but with so many other exciting possibilities out there, why would you?