As a teenager, I had a sleepover almost every weekend. When the parents weren’t home, and they often weren’t, my friends and I would take over the kitchen and make popcorn, spaghetti with regular tomato sauce, and, if we were ambitious, fries.
Really good fries are a delight. For almost 20 years I have enjoyed the one in the now closed K&L Bistro in Sebastopol. The first time I ordered them I asked for aioli. A few minutes later, I saw Karen Martin, co-owner and co-cook with her husband Lucas Martin, holding a large metal bowl in one hand and a whisk in the other, whisking the aioli. Those fries were so tasty slathered with aioli and a little ketchup.
Ketchup is, of course, the classic seasoning for French fries, at least in the United States. In France, Belgium and the Netherlands, mayonnaise is the standard dip. And yes, you’ll probably get a condescending look if you ask for ketchup in a French cafe, but if you prefer it, so what?
Dijon mustard is also excellent, and many people like to dip their French fries in honey mustard. Crème fraîche with a few shakes of Tabasco is also a delicious dipping sauce.
And to drink? The absolute best companion is dry sparkling wine, everything from a cheap Spanish cava to the best local sparkler you can afford.
When making fries, you want to use a neutral-tasting oil, such as a mild-tasting olive oil or corn, grapeseed, or peanut oil. Do not use extra virgin olive oil; it is overpriced and has too much flavor.
Makes 4 servings
5 (about 2 pounds) medium organic potatoes, Kennebec, or ripe russet potatoes
2 liters peanut, corn or olive oil
Spices of your choice
Scrub the potatoes well, but do not peel them.
Cut the potatoes lengthwise into slices half a centimeter wide. Cut the slices into strips half a centimeter wide. Place the potatoes in a large bowl, cover with water and refrigerate for at least 2 hours; at night is best.
To cook the potatoes for the first time, drain well and dry on kitchen towels (not on kitchen paper, which can tear and stick to the potatoes).
Pour the oil into a deep-fat fryer or deep, heavy pan over medium heat. Bring the temperature to 350 degrees. Place a handful of potatoes in a frying basket and submerge them in the hot oil. Shake the basket gently to evenly distribute the potatoes so they don’t stick together. Bake for 4 minutes and transfer to absorbent paper, such as a large paper grocery bag. The potatoes should be completely cooked, but without color. If they get darker, lower the heat and wait a few minutes before continuing. Repeat until all potatoes are fried.
Remove the oil from the heat. Place the potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet and allow to cool for a minimum of 15 minutes to a maximum of 2 hours.
To finish cooking, return the fryer or skillet to medium heat. When the oil reaches 360 degrees, fry the potatoes in batches until golden brown and just crisp, about 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer each batch to absorbent paper before adding a second batch. Season with salt and enjoy immediately, with your favorite herbs on the side.
Note: You can refrigerate, strain, store in a cool and dark place and use to make another batch or two of chips, then discard.
With the Bing cherry season underway, now is a great time to make this delicious condiment. For a very smooth version, pass it through a sieve before packing into glass jars.
Makes about 2½ cups
2½ pounds Bing cherries, pitted
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
¾ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
Place the cherries, vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir gently until the liquid begins to boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently until fruit is quite soft, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool for about 15 minutes. Puree the mixture with a stick blender. Add the lemon zest, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and stir well.
Return to low heat and cook until mixture is quite thick, about 1 hour or slightly longer. Taste and adjust for seasoning, according to your taste.
Remove from heat and ladle into hot glass jars. Let cool; the mixture will continue to thicken. Add lids and rings.
You can now store the ketchup in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks or in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, after which you can store it in a cool, dark pantry for about a year.