French fries (North American English; sometimes not capitalized), chips (British English), fries, or French-fried potatoes (formal) are pieces of potato that have been deep-fried. A distinction is sometimes made between fries and chips, whereby North Americans refer to any pieces of fried potatoes as fries, while in the UK, long thin strips of potatoes are sometimes called fries to contrast them with the thickly cut strips, which are always referred to as chips. French fries are known as pommes frites in large parts of Europe (i.e. Germany, France, Sweden, etc).
The straightforward explanation of the term is that it means potatoes fried in the French sense of the verb "to cook", which can mean either sautéing or deep-grease frying, while its French origin, frire, unambiguously means deep-frying: frites being its past participle used with a plural feminine substantive, as in pommes de terre frites ("deep-fried potatoes"). Thomas Jefferson, famous for serving French dishes, wrote exactly the latter French expression. In the early 20th century, the term "French fried" was being used for foods such as onion rings or chicken, apart from potatoes.
The verb "to french", though not attested until after "French fried potatoes" had appeared , can refer to "julienning" of vegetables as is acknowledged by some dictionaries, while others only refer to trimming the meat off the shanks of chops. In the UK, "Frenched" lamb chops (particularly for serving as a 'rack of lamb') have the majority of the fat removed together with a small piece of fatty meat from between the ends of the chop bones, leaving mainly only the meat forming the "eye" of the chop attached.
The Dutch concur with a Southern Netherlandish or Belgian origin when referring to Vlaamse frieten ('Flemish fries'). In 1857, the newspaper Courrier de Verviers devotes an article to Fritz (assumed pun with 'frites'), a Belgian entrepreneur selling French fries at fairs, calling them "le roi des pommes de terre frites" (The king of fried potatoes). In 1862, a stall selling French fried potatoes (see frietkot) called "Max en Fritz" was established near Het Steen in Antwerp.
A Belgian legend claims that the term "French" was introduced when British or American soldiers arrived in Belgium during World War I, and consequently tasted Belgian fries. They supposedly called them "French", as it was the official language of the Belgian Army at that time. But the term "French fried potatoes" had been in use in America long before the Great War.
Whether or not Belgians invented them, "frites" became the national snack and a substantial part of both national dishes — making the Belgians their largest per capita consumers in Europe, and their "symbolic" creators.
Recipes for fried potatoes (not clearly specified how) in French cookbooks date back at least to Menon's Les soupers de la cour (1755). It is true that eating potatoes was promoted in France by Parmentier, but he did not mention fried potatoes in particular. And the name of the dish in languages other than English does not refer to France; in French, they are simply called "pommes de terres frites" or, more commonly, simply "pommes frites" or 'frites'.
Although the thicker cut English style of fried potato was already a popular dish in most Commonwealth countries, the thin style of french fries has been popularized worldwide in part by U.S.-based fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King. This came about through the introduction of the frozen French fry invented by the J.R. Simplot Company of Idaho in the early 1950s. Before the handshake deal between Ray Kroc of McDonald's and Jack Simplot, potatoes were hand-cut and peeled in the restaurants, but Simplot's frozen product reduced preparation time and aided the expansion of the McDonald's franchise. One of the few fast-food chains that still prepares fresh potatoes on the premises is In-N-Out Burger. Others include Nathan's Famous, Five Guys, the Canadian chain Harvey's, and Penn Station.
Newer varieties of French fries include those which have been battered and breaded, and many U.S. fast-food and casual food chains have turned to dusting with kashi, dextrin and flavors coating for crispier fries with particular tastes. Results with new batterings and breadings, followed by microwaving, remain sub-standard, though oven frying may deliver reasonable fries, albeit different from the traditionally fried item.
French fries have numerous variants, from "thick-cut fries" to "shoestring fries", "jojo fries", "crinkle fries", "curly fries" and many other names. They can also be coated with breading and spices, which include garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, paprika and salt to create "seasoned fries", or cut thickly with the skin left on to create potato wedges, or without the skin to create "steak fries", essentially the American equivalent of the British "chip". Sometimes, French fries are cooked in the oven as a final step in the preparation (having been coated with oil during preparation at the factory): these are often sold frozen and are called "oven fries" or "oven chips".
In France, the thick-cut fries are called 'pommes Pont-Neuf' or simply 'pommes frites', about 10 mm; thinner variants are 'pommes allumettes' (matchstick potatoes), ±7 mm, and 'pommes pailles' (potato straws), 3-4 mm (roughly ⅜, ¼ and ⅛ inch respectively). The two-bath technique is standard (Bocuse). 'Pommes gaufrettes' or "waffle-cut potatoes" are not typical French fried potatoes, but actually crisps obtained by quarter turning the potato before each next slide over a grater and deep-frying just once.
A Belgian chef patented "steppegras" ('prairie grass'), his variety of extremely thin-cut French fried potatoes developed in 1968 while working in Germany. The name refers to a dish including its particular sauce, and to his restaurant.
In Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland and elsewhere, the term "French fries" was made popular by American fast-food franchises setting up restaurants and serving narrow-cut (shoestring) fries. Traditional "chips" in the United Kingdom and Ireland are usually cut much thicker, typically between ⅜ and ½ inches (9.5-13 mm) square in cross-section and cooked twice, making them less crunchy on the outside and fluffier on the inside. Since the surface-to-volume ratio is lower, they have a lower fat content. Chips are part of the popular take-away dish fish and chips. In Australia, the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand, few towns are without a chip shop (colloquially, a chippie/chippy/chipper).
In an interview, Burger King president Donald Smith said that his chain's fries are sprayed with a sugar solution shortly before being packaged and shipped to individual outlets. The sugar caramelizes in the cooking fat, producing the golden color customers expect. Without it, the fries would be nearly the same color outside as inside: pasty yellow. Smith believes that McDonald's also sugar-coats its fries. McDonalds was assumed to fry their fries for a total time of about 15 to 20 minutes, and with fries fried at least twice. The fries appear to contain beef lard, or shortening.
French fries are almost always salted just after cooking. They are then served with a variety of condiments, notably ketchup, curry, curry ketchup (mildly hot mix of the former), hot or chili sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, bearnaise sauce, tartar sauce, tzatziki, feta cheese, garlic sauce, fry sauce, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, gravy, brown sauce, vinegar (especially malt vinegar), lemon, piccalilli, pickled cucumber, gherkins, very small pickled onions, or honey.
Even the smallest Belgian town has a frietkot (literally 'fries shack'). This Dutch language term also became adopted by the French-speaking part of the country in addition to the French friterie; an equivalent though slightly less colloquial Dutch form for such vending stall is frietkraam, while a frituur — from French friture — can as well be in a proper shop possibly furnished with tables. Traditionally, take-away chips were picked by the fingers out of a tip bag wrapped from a square paper, while walking on the streets. By the 1970s and 80s with several meat accompaniments gaining popularity, more practical open carton boxes became standard and tiny plastic forks available. One can order a small or large portion, often three or four sizes are priced.
Fries with mayonnaise is a fastfood classic in Belgium, often eaten without any side orders. The limited choice around 1960 between a pickled herring, a cold large meatball boulet or red-coloured garlic sausage cervela (both often served deep-fried later on), or a beef or (now rarely) horsemeat stew, became expanded by stoofvlees or stoofkarbonade and a wide variety of deep-fried meats as chicken legs, beef or pork sticks, minced beef and/or pork and/or chicken and/or turkey in all shapes (balls, sticks, sausages) mixed with a dosage of fat and condiments to one's preference, usually factory made. An example of an additional on-the-spot preparation is sometimes in Flanders called mammoet speciaal (mammoth special), a large frikandel (curryworst in Antwerp and Flemish Brabant) deep-fried and cut so as to put chopped onion in the V-shaped length and dressed with mayonnaise and (curry-)ketchup. The earliest of the current wide array of sauces, are mayonnaise, fritessaus or sauce pommes-frites ("fry sauce" in English—see the sections on France and the Netherlands) and a local pickle-sauce similar to piccalilli. Though Belgians do not sprinkle vinegar on fries, they may eat them with cold mussels out of the shells preserved in vinegar, entirely uncomparable to the national dish with freshly-boiled hot mussels served in the shells.
In Northern England, Scotland and South Wales, chips and gravy is a popular dish. In parts of England and Scotland, 'cheesy chips' or 'chips 'n cheese', chips with grated cheddar thickly sprinkled on can be found. In the United Kingdom, the term french fries refers exclusively to the long thin version served in fast food establishments. The most common accompaniment for chips in England is tomato ketchup. Meals served with chips are often accompanied by mushy peas or baked beans. In the Midlands and some Northern regions of England a takeaway of chips with either mushy peas or baked beans is called a "pea mix" or "bean mix" respectively.
In Edinburgh and Fife, a local speciality is to serve chips with salt and sauce (a mixture of brown sauce and vinegar). Often the vinegar is actually non-brewed condiment, a solution of acetic acid coloured with caramel. Fish and chips in parts of Scotland is more commonly called a 'fish supper'.
In the Isle of Man, chips are traditionally served with cheese and gravy.
In Irish, "chips" are called "sceallóga" (singular: "sceallóg").
In Canada, French fries are the main component of a dish called 'poutine' french for "a mess": a mixture of French fries with fresh cheese curds (sometimes rasped cheese), covered with a hot gravy (usually), hot chicken sauce (much less common), or chicken BBQ sauce (rarely). This dish was invented in Pointe Gatineau, Quebec and its popularity has spread throughout Quebec and the rest of Canada. Not only now found at road-side chip stands but it is carried in national chains such as Harvey's and New York Fries as well as Canadian outlets of international franchises such as A&W, Burger King and Mc Donald's. (A similar variant, 'disco fries' is found in several New England cities.)
Throughout Canada, white vinegar is a popular condiment for French fries. No other country is known to so enjoy white vinegar (as opposed to malt or other vinegars) on its fries (although it is served as an accompaniment for Fish and Chips in Australia). Most major Canadian fast-food outlets provide white vinegar packets next to their ketchup packets in their stores, and many restaurants keep white vinegar on their tables. That is not to say that the use of malt vinegar is not common – particularly amongst those of English heritage. In most traditional 'fish & chips' shops in Canada, malt vinegar is more prevalent. However, ketchup and vinegar remain the most popular condiments used on French fries in Canada.
In Newfoundland, "chips, dressing and gravy" (sometimes referred to by outsiders as "Newfie fries") comprise French fries topped with "dressing" (turkey stuffing made with summer savoury) and gravy. Another variation consists of topping the French Fries with either ground beef, hot dogs, dressing and cheese and topped with gravy.
In the Netherlands, fries are popular as fast food, served as patat (for the French patates frites) in vending points that often very similar to the ones in Belgium but called snackbars. Traditionally, fries are served with mayonnaise or a lower-fat version called fritessaus, although the latter is often also referred to as mayonnaise. This combination is usually called patat met (for literally "fries with"), as opposed to patat zonder ("fries without", without any sauce). Other popular sauces are satésaus (satay sauce, a peanut sauce that is also served with the Indonesian meat sate), ketchup, speciaal (special; a mixture of chopped onions, fritessaus, and ketchup). Another interesting combination is Patat Oorlog (Dutch for: French Fries War), which is French fries with a variety of sauces, a variety that differs from region to region, and even from one snackbar to another. While it sometimes means mayonnaise (or rather, fritessaus), peanut sauce and chopped raw onions, in other places it means the fries are accompanied with all condiments available. Dutch snackbars typically offer at least eight condiments or combinations of them (the condiments are never free in Dutch snackbars), but some serve up to forty different styles.
When taken as fast food, fries are often accompanied by other popular deep-fried fast foods such as the kroket and frikandel, but fries are also served as a side dish in regular restaurants. A well-made fries recipe would give the fries a fried fish and pastry-like fragrance. The texture of this fries indicates that it may have first been blanched before frying.
In the United States, by far the most popular condiment for fries is ketchup, so much so that consumption of restaurant fries drives ketchup sales. Occasionally mustard is used, and malt vinegar mainly available at restaurants which serve fish and chips. Fries are sometimes coated with melted cheese, called cheese fries. This can be in combination with chili, making chili cheese fries. A staple at many sports bars is fries with bleu cheese dressing as a dip, or sometimes ranch dressing.
Steak fries are thicker-cut fries, often with the skins intact (they are also sometimes known as Texas[-style] fries in this form). They are often coated with spices or marinaded before cooking. They may be fried or baked in the oven.
French fries can contain a large amount of fat (usually saturated) or oils from frying. Some researchers have suggested that the high temperatures used for frying such dishes may have results harmful to health (see acrylamides). In the United States about ¼ of vegetables consumed are prepared as French fries and are proposed to contribute to widespread obesity. Frying French fries in beef tallow, adds saturated fat to the diet. Replacing tallow with tropical oils such as palm oil simply substitutes one saturated fat for another. Replacing tallow with partially hydrogenated oil reduces cholesterol but adds trans fat, which has been shown to both raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. Many restaurants now advertise their use of unsaturated oils. Five Guys, for example, advertises their fries are prepared in peanut oil.
In New Zealand in 1995 some branches of the local fast food chain Georgie Pie took to calling their French fries "Kiwi Fries", in opposition to the French resumption of nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
In early 2003 some members of the U.S. congress proposed calling French fries Freedom Fries in response to France's opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq. By 2006 the menu at the House restaurant had reverted to calling them French fries.
In June 2004, the United States Department of Agriculture, with the advisement of a federal district judge from Beaumont, Texas, classified batter-coated French fries as a vegetable under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act. Although this move was mostly for trade reasons (French fries do not meet the standard to be listed as a "processed food"), this received significant media attention partially due to the documentary Super Size Me.