Chef Juanjo López looks at a simple plate with freshly made French fries and affirms: “This is haute cuisine.” What he says is consistent with his own doctrine of simplicity and with the fact that the good potato chip, the well-done potato chip, is an increasingly elusive thing in homes and restaurants. Another connoisseur in the kitchen, the journalist Mikel López Iturriaga, head of the blog El Comidista, laments by phone the decline of this old and popular delicacy: “It is already difficult to find places where they take care of their preparation. It is a product with a lot of potential that is not paid attention to. The normal thing is that they put them soft, greasy or frozen. For me, it is a measure of the quality of the sites ”. In his restaurant in Madrid, La Tasquita de Enfrente, López reflects on the limbo in which the fried potato is found – it is not usually served in luxury restaurants, domestic cuisine has ceased to be his bastion due to the rush of modern life and in mainstream hospitality, standardization predominates — and qualifies it as “a cultural tragedy.” Where have you gone, potato chip.
He has gone, for example, to a Carrefour supermarket where chef Dani García, who is recording a collaboration with the French chain, pauses to make us what he considers “perfect french fries”. García, three Michelin stars, thinks that the fried potato is “hyperprostitute”, that it has fallen “into anything goes”, and maintains that finding the point is no joke: “I would tell you that it took me eight or nine years get to do them as I see fit, testing and testing at home based on experience and pure intuition “. In April 2020, when we were confined by the pandemic, he thought that people would need practical advice to cope with this and posted a video on how to fry potatoes on YouTube. Tens of thousands of people saw it and, according to his account, someone still thanks him every day today. “Last week I was having dinner at a restaurant in Marbella and a lady approached me to tell me that now they were better. And once a guy wrote me a message on Instagram saying that that tutorial prevented his girlfriend from leaving him. ” It may be an exaggeration to say that good fries can solve a serious relationship crisis, but by tasting his when he was done – as tasted by the reporter, the chef’s team, and the chef himself, who ruthlessly killed the last ones – we can attest to that a pleasant climate was created, of harmony and real smiles.
For frying, use sour potato, a common choice among cooks; preferably old, because they bring less water. Once they have been peeled by an assistant, García takes a chef’s knife and cuts them into sticks with precision, making sure that most of them are the same length and thickness, rather thin so that the potato is made on the inside. He washes them in a bowl until they release the starch and the water is transparent. Drains them. Salt them before frying “so they whine” and hit the pan with less moisture. Humidity, according to Dani García, is the nemesis of the perfect potato chip. And now, yes, the crux of the matter: “It is not a question of throwing them into the pan or deep fryer over high heat and giving it a candle, because they burn on the outside and do not cook. This is about frying them in two cooks, playing with the temperature of the oil ”. He fries them in olive oil. She pours them over medium-high heat, lets them dehydrate, shakes them gently, goes over medium heat during a valley phase in which the inside of the potatoes finishes cooking and ends up rising again to medium-high so that they twitch. “This is how it has to be”, he affirms before his work, which has taken him a little over a quarter of an hour. “The skin like a crunchy layer that bulges and separates from the body, the body almost like a puree and, in the background, that long aftertaste of olive oil in the mouth”.
“Man, of course, frying them in olive oil is great,” says Belgian chef Etienne Bastaits, who lived in Spain for three decades and was in charge of the Atelier Belge, in Madrid. He considers that olive oil is the main virtue of the ordinary fried potato that is eaten in Spain, and its defect, the habit of making it at a high temperature in one go, from the moment it is poured until it is removed, unlike in Belgium. , where the double cooking or frying technique is widespread. His country disputes with France the credit of the invention of the fried potato, neither more nor less, but there is no historiographical evidence that allows to declare a winner in the contest.
Rosa Tovar, cook and researcher in the history of gastronomy, warns that “it is impossible to make a history of the fried potato”. “We know that at the beginning, when it arrived from America, the potato was not liked and it went to pig farms, and it did not appear in recipes until the beginning of the 18th century. But we cannot know where and when the fried potato begins to be eaten because it was a meal of ordinary people, and at that time there were no chronicles of what ordinary people ate ”.
In Belgium, the authorities are evaluating the possibility of asking Unesco to recognize their famous stalls as world heritage sites. fries, called frietkot, friteries O frittenbude, according to the linguistic area. For its part, France enjoys the privilege that this iconic product is known globally as french fries, despite the fact that once the Republican majority of the United States Congress managed to get the institution’s cafeteria to be called freedom fries (freedom potatoes) because President Chirac did not support the invasion of Iraq. The idea came from Neal Rowland, a man who owned a fast food restaurant in North Carolina. He compared the situation to World War I, when the United States authorities considered renaming the chucrut, of German origin, such as liberty cabbage, liberty cabbage. The French fry rampage in Congress lasted three years, but it did not permeate society and the french fries they remained french fries, the same ones that Obama salivates about – in 2009 he said: “They are my favorite food, but I can’t eat them every day” – and those that Trump said in a tweet in 2020 that were – specifically those of McDonald’s – the reason that he would not have gone bald.
The latter, chain fries, are obviously another dimension of the french fry. Its industrial face. We visit a Burger King in Madrid where they allow us to go to the kitchen to see how theirs are fried. They keep them in a dispenser at -19.3 degrees Celsius. From there they fall into metal baskets that go to deep fryers to cook at 175 degrees for 3 minutes and 10 seconds. [Las de McDonald’s, según nos informa por correo electrónico el otro gigante de la comida rápida, se hacen 3 minutos a 168 grados para resultar en “una patata con un suave color dorado y textura crujiente en su exterior”]. At Burger King they show us how 35 seconds after immersion the deep fryer beeps to remember to shake them so that they do not become caked, how when they finish they lift the basket for a few seconds to drain the oil and how they leave them in a “potato pan” or bagging station ”, which retains its heat for a maximum of 10 minutes until serving. If they are not served in that time, they explain, the potatoes are removed. This is how they dispatch some 28,200 tons of French fries a year in Spain. They are not those of Juanjo López or Dani Garcia, but to four teenagers who are there spending the afternoon they seem “versatile”, “tasty”, “something that goes with everything at all times” and “basically the best”.
Now, let’s go back to limbo. Okay, Burger King’s fries are “basically the best” and that McDonald’s has kept his head bushy, but what about the traditional ones? López Iturriaga believes they are finding refuge in chicken and hamburger restaurants gourmet. “In these places, in general, they do care that they are good, they do double frying and they do not put them in ancient oils.” A restaurant that meets this description is Piri Piri, in Madrid, where they put a great chicken (roast chicken in the Portuguese style) and accompany it with some very solvent fries. Luis Figueira, owner with his partner José Lander, both Venezuelans with Portuguese roots, says that from the beginning they considered that they should respect the Iberian potato culture and not serve frozen potatoes “under any circumstances.” They hired a consultant and tracked Mercamadrid in search of a potato that was fried well, of which there was abundant availability and that would endure the time of home delivery. “We tested 13 varieties of potato for three months and in the end we found one that is a blessing, but whose name I should not reveal,” says Figueira. Ask the cooks to bring us a helping of potatoes. When it arrives, try one. It seems to him that it is soft. He approaches the cooks and asks for others, fried over a higher heat. When testing the second batch, he is satisfied: “Already. Everything in its holy place ”.
On La Tasquita, Juanjo López only serves French fries with his meatballs, and puts them square, not on a stick. He explains the natural: that people don’t go to a high-altitude restaurant like hers in search of French fries, although he says that sometimes he makes the classic ones, the elongated ones, if a client has the whim. “I have put them, for example, with fried eggs and caviar.” For him, you would not even have to include caviar to consider this a luxury dish. “Fried eggs with fried potatoes are one of those great food pairings, a perfect match, like elver on caramelized pear”, judges López, who has just arrived from a gastronomic meeting in Istanbul, where he had the opportunity to taste a fabulous mousse chickpeas with lamb. There he heard Andoni Luis Aduriz a phrase that has to do with the importance that López grants to the fried potato: “The sixth flavor is the flavor of stories,” said the philosopher chef of Mugaritz. For López it is the fried potato, a story of his life, a familiar element since he was a child, his father ruled the restaurant and at home eggs and chips were a recurring dish “and, if it was a holiday, with a little ham Highlander”. And he considers that they are also the history of Spain, a heritage that is being neglected “among other things due to papanatism.” “We have to embrace what is ours again,” he defends. Let’s hug fries, of course, let’s hug them.
Juanjo López, chef at La Tasquita de Enfrente, made us some french fries. He cut them into equal sticks, so that some would not cook more than others. He fried them in two times. They were succulent: crispy on the outside, made on the inside.Geray Mena
He admits that, made with the care they deserve, they could be on the menu of an elite restaurant. “The fried potato is something that seems to be less but it cannot be more,” he says. Belgian Etienne Bastaits thinks that the vision of the potato chip as “a little enough garnish” remains. He, on the contrary, believes that “it can be a real pleasure.” In her restaurant in Madrid, she served it alone, sprinkled with a few flakes of sea salt. Dani García points out that the avant-garde turn of contemporary gastronomy dislocated the existence of the good fried potato. “Before it was served in the best places, as an accompaniment, but for two decades, since the Adrià revolution, the kitchen has been on a different roll, everything has moved radically towards the conceptual. But I do not rule out that in a luxury restaurant they will serve french fries again ”.
“Do you think it would make sense to put three superbly cooked French fries on a plate?”
“It would make sense,” he replies, and completes with a smile, “but it depends on the cook’s eggs.”
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