As a teen, I had a sleepover almost every weekend. If parents weren’t home, and they frequently weren’t, my friends and I would take over the kitchen and make popcorn, spaghetti with plain tomato sauce and, if we felt ambitious, french fries.
Really good fries are a delight. For almost 20 years, I enjoyed the ones at the now-closed K & L Bistro in Sebastopol. The first time I ordered them, I asked for aioli to go with them. A few minutes later, I saw Karen Martin, co-owner and co-chef with her husband Lucas Martin, holding a big metal bowl in one hand and a whisk in the other, whipping up the aioli. Those fries were so good slathered with aioli and just a bit of ketchup.
Ketchup is, of course, the classic condiment with fries, at least in the United States. In France, Belgium and the Netherlands, mayonnaise is the default dip. And yes, you are likely to receive a patronizing look if you ask for ketchup in a French cafe, but if that’s what you prefer, so what?
Dijon mustard is excellent, too, and a lot of people like dipping their fries in honey mustard. Crème fraîche with a few shakes of Tabasco makes a delicious dipping sauce, too.
And to drink? The absolute best companion is dry sparkling wine, anything from an inexpensive Spanish cava to the best local sparkler you can afford.
You want to use a neutral-tasting oil to make fries, such as a mildly flavored olive oil or corn, grapeseed or peanut oil. Do not use extra-virgin olive oil; it’s too expensive and has too much flavor.
Perfect French Fries
Makes 4 servings
5 (about 2 pounds) medium-large organic potatoes, either Kennebec or mature russets
2 quarts peanut, corn or olive oil
Condiments of choice
Scrub the potatoes thoroughly but do not peel them.
Cut the potatoes lengthwise into ⅜-inch-wide slices. Cut the slices into ⅜-inch-wide strips. Put the potatoes in a large bowl, cover with water and refrigerate for at least 2 hours; overnight is best.
To cook the potatoes the first time, drain them thoroughly and dry them on tea towels (not on paper towels, which can tear apart and stick to the potatoes).
Pour the oil into a deep-fryer or deep, heavy saucepan set over medium heat. Bring the temperature to 350 degrees. Put a handful of potatoes into a fryer basket and submerge it in the hot oil. Agitate the basket gently to distribute the potatoes evenly so they don’t stick to each other. Fry for 4 minutes and transfer to absorbent paper, such as a large paper grocery bag. The potatoes should be completely tender but without color. If they darken, lower the heat and wait a few minutes before continuing. Repeat until all the potatoes have been fried.
Remove the oil from the heat. Put the potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet and cool for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.
To finish cooking, return the deep-fryer or skillet to medium heat. When the oil reaches 360 degrees, fry the potatoes in batches until they are 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 right away, with your preferred condiments alongside.
Note: You can cool the oil, strain it, store it in a cool and dark place and use it to make another batch or two of fries, after which it should be discarded.
With Bing cherry season underway, now is a great time to make this delicious condiment. For a very smooth version, pass it through a strainer before packing it 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 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
¾ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
½ teaspoon ground cayenne
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground clove
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
Put the cherries, vinegar and sugar into a saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir gently until the liquid begins to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the fruit is quite soft, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let cool for about 15 minutes. Puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Add the lemon zest, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, clove and cardamom and stir well.
Return to low heat and cook until the mixture is quite thick, about 1 hour or a bit longer. Taste and correct for seasoning, to your taste.
Remove from the heat and spoon into hot glass jars. Let cool; the mixture will continue to thicken. Add lids and rings.
At this point, you can store the ketchup in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks or process it in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, which will allow it to keep for about a year in a cool, dark pantry.