There’s no question that French fries have become a staple of American cuisine.
Whether you enjoy your fries in their original form, loaded, or on top of pizza, there’s no wrong way to eat fries.
Although the term for fries has the word “French” in it, there’s also no question that they’re popular in America.
It may make you wonder why and how the food got its name.
Here’s what you need to know about French fries.
Why Are French Fries Called French Fries?
There are several theories surrounding the origin of the name French fries and about the origins of French fries.
Some claim that the French were, indeed, the ones who invented the food and thus passed its name down to the type of food.
However, most food history points to the Belgians who started slicing their potatoes and frying them in a way that we know as French fries today.
Because Belgians spoke French at the time, the term “French” became associated with the food.
Another theory that’s popular among food historians is that the name became construed with the Irish word for cutting in a certain way.
“To French,” was an Irish word for cutting.
When the Irish came to the United States, they brought this term with them and it became associated with French fries.
French fries are not necessarily called French fries because they came from France.
Depending on which theory one believes, the name came to be either because of the Irish word for cutting or because Belgians made the food popular in World War 1.
When Were French Fries Invented?
Because the origin of French fries is a little murky, there isn’t an exact date associated with the popular dish.
However, many menus dating back to the 1700s indicate that, by that time at least, French fries were around.
It’s important to note that European countries didn’t start importing potatoes until the 1600s.
Even then, they didn’t rise in popularity until the early 1700s.
Most historians point to the Belgians for inventing the food.
They didn’t call them French fries, however.
They called them, “Pomme de Terre Frittes.”
The name would later be shortened to “Pomme Frittes,” and then simply, “Frittes.”
What Does French Fry Mean?
Besides the name associating the food with France, French fry actually means cutting potatoes into long strips.
Those who believe the Belgians invented French fries also believe that they got the idea from how they normally eat fish.
Because Belgians lived close to a river, their primary diet consisted of fish that they caught.
They cooked their fish by filleting and slicing them in thin strips.
During the winter, when the river froze or there weren’t many fish to catch, Belgians relied on potatoes to get them through periods of famine.
They decided to slice their potatoes like they sliced their fish.
They cut them into thin strips and the name they gave to the particular potato dish stuck.
The Irish also adopted this way of cooking potatoes and called it “to French” or “Frenching.”
When Did French Fries Come To The United States?
It’s hard to imagine an America without French fries, but at one point, that was the case.
While Europeans have been enjoying French fries since the 1700s, it took a considerably longer time for the food to reach America.
Although the dish may have been in America before, there’s no question that its popularity started with Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson had spent a good amount of time in France during his time in political office.
While in France, he ate staples of French food, including French fries.
He enjoyed the dish so much that he had his slave learn the recipe.
Eventually, he’d bring the recipe over to America where he’d serve it at state dinners in the White House.
He instructed his chefs to serve the potatoes in “the French manner.”
French Fries And World War 1
Although French fries may have first landed in America with Thomas Jefferson, it wasn’t until World War 1 that French fries would come to the masses.
The story behind its rise in popularity goes back to a group of soldiers who were at Meuse Valley in Dinant, Belgium.
Since the soldiers had to station there, they also had to eat the local food that the Belgians provided.
One of their favorite foods was the Belgian “Pommes Frittes,” which were indulgent and obvious comfort food.
Dinant soldiers spoke French to the American soldiers.
Because of this, the soldiers popularly called the dish “French fries.”
They’d go on to bring the recipe home where French fries would start to show up in popular restaurants.
After soldiers got a taste of French fries during the war, the rest of America would soon develop a love for the fried potatoes, too.
What Was The First American Restaurant To Serve French Fries?
It’s difficult to imagine almost any type of restaurant that doesn’t serve fries.
However, before the 1900s, this was exactly the case.
A little after the first World War, America was seeing a boom in the fast-food industry.
White Castle has the credit for being among the first, if not the first fast-food restaurant to start serving French fries.
In 1916, they served French fries as a side to their regular burgers and drinks.
They became a hit.
One of the reasons that White Castle decided to give French fries a try is that fast-food restaurants were serving a need in their community.
At the time, lower-income families weren’t able to eat at restaurants that served quality food.
It was simply too expensive.
The popularity of fast-food restaurants is that they sold restaurant-quality food at low prices.
They were able to do this because they kept their costs low.
Burgers and drinks were low-cost items.
However, these restaurants also knew they needed something else to complete their menus.
They started looking at other types of food that were cheap to farm and easy to store.
Potatoes fit the bill perfectly.
Not only are they cheap and easy to farm, but potatoes can also store for a long time before they start to go bad.
This made them extremely cost-effective.
White Castle and other fast-food restaurants seized the opportunity and started selling French fries as a side to their main dishes.
Another reason that restaurants started serving French fries was the lack of seating in the restaurant.
Fast-food restaurants, originally, didn’t have any seating areas.
People had to eat standing up.
That prompted many to order through the window like a drive-thru.
Because of this, restaurants needed dishes that could easily fit through the window.
French fries were a natural choice.
What Made French Fries Popular In Fast-Food Restaurants?
Besides their affordability, people flocked to fast-food restaurants when they started serving French fries.
They became the delicious comfort food that people still love today.
Although they were an affordable menu item, this isn’t the only reason that people started buying French fries regularly.
When French fries first started appearing in fast-food restaurants, there wasn’t a lot of home-cooking equipment that enabled people to make them at home.
Today, it’s easy to buy several different types of fryers.
Back in the day, however, those devices were strictly for restaurants.
Only they could afford the expensive cooking equipment.
Even if people could get their hands on a fryer, there wasn’t widespread knowledge about how to use them properly.
Because of this, people were unable to cook French fries at home.
Their only source was fast-food restaurants.
Combined with its affordability and delicious flavor, French fries became a staple at fast-food restaurants.
When Did McDonald’s Start Serving French Fries?
McDonald’s first opened in California in 1940.
The famous fast-food restaurant got its start through two brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald.
The brothers grew up during a time when fast-food restaurants were reigning.
However, there were some problems with fast-food restaurants that were turning people away.
They wanted to offer a better experience.
They put together a menu and opened up a fast-food restaurant of their own which they claimed would be cleaner and cheaper than other restaurants.
McDonald’s was born.
There are several menu items on the original menu that you can still buy to this day.
French fries, for example, were one of the first items on their menu.
In 1940, a side of French fries cost 10 cents.
They also only had eight other menu items that you could buy.
They kept the menu small to ensure fast service.
Some of those staples still exist today.
For example, they still sell burgers, cheeseburgers, and even shakes.
All these got their start on the 1940 menu and continue to this day.
As their golden arches might suggest, McDonald’s French fries have been a part of its menu since its inception in 1940.
How To Cook Traditional French Fries
There are a surprising number of ways to cook French fries depending on how you want to eat them.
If you’re curious about cooking French fries the traditional way, then be sure to follow this recipe.
1. Gather Your Ingredients
You’ll need only a few basic ingredients to cook fries the traditional way.
The most important ingredient is two pounds of Burbank russet potatoes.
Any brand will do, but Burbank has a good potato that makes delicious fries.
You’ll need at least three large potatoes to make fries.
You’ll also need two to three quarts of canola oil or peanut oil, depending on your preference.
Finally, you’ll need either sea salt or kosher salt, depending on your preference.
2. Cut Potatoes
To make French fries, you first have to cut them in a French fry shape.
To do this, you’ll need to start cutting the potato lengthwise.
You’ll want the potato slices to be 1/4-inch wide.
You’ll form discs as a result.
You then need to turn the discs into sticks by cutting the discs again in 1/4-inch widths.
By the time you’re done cutting, you should have sticks of potatoes that look reminiscent of fries.
It’s also important to cut the fries as uniformly as possible.
This enables the potatoes to cook evenly and at the same time.
The last thing you want is to have to pick out fries individually that still need cooking.
3. Soak The Potatoes
With your sticks ready, it’s time to soak them.
Get a large bowl and fill it with cold water.
You’ll want to let them soak for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes are over, you’ll need to rinse the potatoes with fresh, cold water.
You can hold them under a faucet or let them soak in a fresh bowl of water for another few minutes.
Either way, you need to repeat the process three times.
Only they’re thoroughly rinsed, you can leave them out to dry on a paper towel or plate.
4. Heat Oil
While your potatoes are drying, it’s a great time to heat your oil.
You’ll need a pot that can hold six quarts of oil.
Fill the pot with oil, then let it heat on medium heat until it reaches 330 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’ll want to use a deep-fry thermometer for this particular reading.
Adjust your heat accordingly to maintain 330 degrees.
5. Cook Potatoes
Once your potatoes are completely dry, it’s time to cook them.
Place one-third of your potatoes into the pot.
The temperature will decrease when you place the potatoes in the pot, so it’s a good idea to return it to medium heat if you haven’t already.
While it’s okay if the temperature doesn’t return to 330 degrees, you’ll want to try to keep the oil around 300 degrees at least.
Let the potatoes rest in the pot for a few minutes.
Your goal is to get them softened.
They should turn a creamy color, but you don’t want them to brown at this stage.
Stirring the pot occasionally will help ensure they cook evenly and don’t stick to the bottom.
Once they reach the desired softness, you’ll need to scoop the potatoes out and shake off any excess oil clinging to them.
Then place the potato strips on a baking sheet.
For the best cooking method, you should lay them out in a single layer.
Now, you’ll need to heat your oil to 360 degrees.
Place the third of the fries into the pot once more.
Cook and stir them until they turn a golden-brown color and become crispy.
This should only take around two to three minutes.
The final step to cooking traditional fries is to salt them.
Remove your fries from the pot and place them on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Line the sheet with paper towels and cover them in salt.
Then sprinkle salt over the top of the fries and rub them generously with the paper towels.
Once they have enough salt, your fries are ready for immediate serving.
How To Cook Loaded Fries
While traditional fries are a classic treat, a new take on fries can be enough to satisfy anyone’s craving.
Loaded fries come in many different forms.
One of the most popular types of loaded fries is fries with cheese and bacon.
Here’s what you need to do to make loaded fries with cheese and bacon.
1. Gather Your Ingredients
There are two main parts of this dish.
To create the fries, you’ll need either frozen French fries or potatoes to cut into your own fries.
You’ll also need bacon, green onions, and sour cream.
The other part of the dish is the cheese sauce that’s poured over the French fries.
To make the cheese sauce, you’ll need butter, all-purpose flour, cheddar cheese, milk, and salt and pepper.
2. Bake Or Make The Fries
If you bought frozen fries, then you’ll need to bake them according to the bag’s instructions.
If you plan on making your own fries, then you’ll need to cut your potatoes into fry shapes as described in the previous section.
Then heat them in oil, let them dry, and then fry them in a fresh pot of oil.
Finally, you’ll need to rub them in salt.
Once your fries are either baked or made, you’re ready for the next step.
3. Prepare Cheese Sauce
While your fries are baking or heating up, it’s a great time to prepare the cheese sauce.
You’ll start by melting some butter in a saucepan.
Then whisk the flour and cook it in the pan for a minute.
Then slowly add milk while continuing to whisk.
You’ll want to keep adding milk and stirring until the consistency becomes thick and smooth.
The process usually takes around five minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and add in cheddar.
You’ll want to stir it in gradually.
If you like your cheese a little salty or peppery, then you’ll want to add the appropriate seasoning according to your tastes.
4. Cover Fries
With your sauce ready, all you need to do is wait for your fries.
Once they’re baked, you’ll need to drizzle the cheese sauce over the fries immediately.
Add some chopped bacon and sprinkle on some green onions for additional flavor.
The final step is to drizzle the dish with sour cream according to your taste.
You have delicious loaded fries ready for the table.
There are several different origin stories behind French fries with each suggesting why French fries have the name French fries.
The most popular theory is that the name came from the Belgians who were among the first, if not the first, to make French fries.
There are several ways to cook and enjoy fries like the traditional fry recipe and the loaded fry recipe given above.