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PRABEEN SINGH
HIGH TABLE

French or not, fries unite the world gastronomically

'I was ecstatic they renamed French fries as Freedom Fries. Grown men and women in position of power in the U.S. government showing themselves as idiots.'

—Johnny Depp

I do believe that French Fries–refer to it by whatever regional, vernacular, slang name you want–is the all-purpose 'feel good' food for just about every person in this world. No one can resist a plate of hot, crisp, and soft in the centre French fries. Even the most avid, disciplined advocate of healthy food is gently seduced into 'let me have just one'. Alas it never stops at one, but yes a strong- willed person may remove themselves from temptation after gobbling down quarter of a plate. The 'feel good' factor slowly turns into a guilt trip. What a shame. Life should not revolve around guilt, because resolutions to keep within a strict healthy calorie count diet are painstakingly difficult to adhere to. In fact, to deny oneself a good gorge every so often goes against all that we are naturally inclined towards. My love affair with French fries [we called them fat chips as children] began at age three, when efforts at learning to swim were rewarded with a plate of fat chips at the poolside table of the club we frequented. I'm convinced that I learnt to swim not because of my dedication to the sport but due to the anticipated plate of pure delight, which awaited me beyond the last lap.

The origin of this simple, elegant, and mind-bogglingly delicious snack is somewhat obscure. But we do know that the Potato was first introduced in Europe and England by Spain via the New World. The credit goes to Jimenez de Quesada and his marauding troops who arrived at a deserted Columbian village to discover among other food items a little knobby tuber, which they thought was a kind of truffle and named tartuffo. Twenty years later [1565] the tartuffo was brought to Spain and at first grew to be bitter and quiet small in size—not the most sought after, vegetable. However with improved methods of irrigation and soil composition this knobby tuber grew into the potato.

It was soon to become the most popular vegetable in most parts of Europe and England—except France, where it was considered food for hogs. The French believed that it was harmful for human consumption and blamed it for being the carrier of leprosy. So much so, in 1748 the French parliament actually banned the potato. The credit to convince the French nation that on the contrary it is a most versatile and delicious vegetable goes to Antoine-Augustine Parmentier, a medical officer in the French army who was captured by the Prussians and for seven long years was forced to cultivate and eat Potatoes, without incurring Leprosy! In 1772 the Paris faculty of medicines proclaimed the potato fit for human consumption. However, old prejudices die hard and it was only in the 18th century that the French love affair with Potato kick-started.

Hence French Fries could not have originated in France. But it did in the neighbouring country, which in the 17th century was still controlled by Spain. So it is logical to assume that the Potato travelled quiet swiftly to what we now know as Belgium. The early experiments with frying potatoes were conducted during the mid seventeenth century in the Meuse Valley between Dinant and Liege where the practice of frying fish was common. Some creative genius decided to cut the potatoes to the size of the tiny river fish [in an attempt to mimic them] and fry them. The French tasted the potato a hundred years later, though there are advocates who believe and promote the view that the technique of frying potatoes was simultaneous in both the countries. However the credit of introducing it to England and America goes to France. It is generally agreed upon that the honour of naming them French Fries goes to the American soldiers who were posted in Belgium during World War I. Since the official language of the Belgian Army was French, the American soldiers called the frittes 'French Fries'. The first potatoes fried as chips in England was on the site of the Oldham's Tommy Field market in 1860 and a blue plaque in Oldham market still marks the spot–the beginning of the fast food industry in England.

In 1802 Thomas Jefferson had the Whitehouse chef, Frenchman-Honore Julien prepare "potatoes served in the French manner". Its honourable status of a 'hot favourite' in world cuisine followed suit. Today French Fries do make the world a more inviting place! But ponder once over Friedrich Nietzsche's cautionary statement the next time you dig your paws into that bag of fries–"A diet that consists predominantly of rice leads to use of opium, just as a diet that consists predominantly of potato leads to use of liquor."

Recipe:

Ingredients:

One medium size potato per person

2 cups vegetable oil

Iced-water to soak the potatoes

Seasoning of your choice but salt and pepper must be added

Method:

Scrub the potato skin well, with a brush under running water, keep the skin on

Cut into 1/3 inch strips of the same size

Soak in iced-water and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat oil

Drain and dry the potatoes

When the oil is hot fry in small batches for 10 minutes

Drain the oil

Just before serving, fry on high heat for 5-6 minutes or till they are golden and crisp on the surface

Season according to your taste and enjoy!

 

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