Ask any Belgian and they’ll tell you that fries were first ‘invented’ in Belgium, and not in France, unlike what they might have you thinking by calling it ‘French fries’. There might not be any evidence proving which country came up with it, so all I can do is tell you about our side of the story and let you in on our secret of how to make the perfect fries.
The first fries
“According to local Belgian legends, poor villagers living in Meuse Valley often ate small fried fish they caught in the river. During the winter months the river would freeze over, thus making fishing impossible and forcing the villagers to find other sources of food. The villagers turned to potatoes and sliced them up like small fish and fried them instead. And there you have it, the first fries were created! Now why is it called French fries in English? Well, American soldiers stationed in Belgium during World War I were first introduced to Belgian fries. But since the official language of the Belgian army was French, soldiers nicknamed the delicious fried potatoes “french fries”, as they simply thought they were in France.”
Unfortunately for us Belgians, the name stuck, but there can be no doubt about it: fries are big part of our culinary and cultural heritage. As the number one national snack you’ll pretty much see fries everywhere in Belgium. They are usually part of our biggest national dishes like beef & beer stew or steak with fries, but you can also go to one of our many many MANY ‘Frietkoten’ or ‘Frituren’, which can either be a traditional restaurant, take-away place, food truck or a stall on the side of the road where you can buy all sorts of fried snacks: fries, hamburgers, and fried chicken will be the most known to foreigners but we also have a big selection of other fried meats to go along with our delicious fries. To top it off you can pick one of our sauces to go on top of the fries: mayonnaise, ketchup, tartar sauce, curry ketchup, samurai sauce, .. To sum it up: You’re in fry heaven when you visit Belgium! And yes, we even have a museum dedicated to our fries, which you can visit in Bruges.
Now enough about history, let’s get frying!
Serves: 4 people
- 1kg potatoes
Needed: a deep fryer
Not a lot of ingredients, right? You might only need just one ingredient but it’s very important you pick the right kind of potatoes. In Belgium we actually have a special kind of potato, perfectly suited for fries: Bintjes, but you won’t be able to find these abroad, unless you live in the Netherlands. If you live anywhere else, simply go for high starch or ‘floury’ potatoes, like Russett potatoes for example and do NOT go for hard boiling potatoes.
Note that most chippers in Belgium always use animal fat for frying; it used to be a mixture of horse and ox fat but nowadays most chippers will use an ox fat and vegetable oil mixture. If you can’t find this in your country simply go for sunflower oil.
Wash the potatoes and peel them. Do not wash them again once they are peeled. Some people claim the fries will be crispier if you wash them, however doing so removes the starch, which means your fries won’t be as crispy.
Cut them into fries of about 1,3cm (which is the ideal size for Belgian fries) or use a special cutter for fries. I was lucky enough to get my grandfather’s old cutter, so it doesn’t take me very long to make fresh fries.
Next up: set the temperature of your deep fryer to 160°C. Once it reaches the right temperature, fry the fries for the first time. Do not overload the frying basket or your fries will stick together and they will be not that tasty. Now since we are frying them twice, you do not want your fries to become golden brown already. Simply make sure you take them out while they are still pale and check if you can pinch all the way through. Basically: they should be cooked but not colored. This will take 4-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fries.
Take them out of the deep fryer, shake the oil or fat off a bit and put them in a bowl covered with kitchen paper. Let them cool off for 15 minutes.
Increase the heat on your deep fryer to 190°C and fry them again (again: don’t overload the basket) until they have the perfect color. Take them out of the fryer, shake the oil or fat off a bit again and toss just a bit of salt on top (optional). Serve it with your favorite sauce and that’s it, you got yourself a lovely plate of Belgian fries!
PS: Also check out one of our national dishes: beef & beer stew, which is usually served with fries.