July 13

French fries

It is <strong>National French Fry Day. </strong>Fried potatoes are among the greatest culinary creations of all time. Even when they're badly made, they're tempting. When well made, they're irresistible. Chefs and restaurateurs from the lowest to the highest orders brag about their fries as much as about anything. No less a gourmet than Thomas Jefferson proudly served fries at the White House. A clear uptick in the quality of restaurant French fries appeared in recent years. More of them take the trouble to cut their own from fresh potatoes. That was at one time universal. Even McDonald's. . .

Days Until. . .

Celebrity Chefs Today

Chef Paul Prudhomme was born today in 1940. He was the youngest of thirteen children, and grew up on a farm near Opelousas. He often said that the goodness of Cajun cooking came from having to sell the best of what they caught and grew, and making secondary foodstuffs taste good. He also said that people who grew up close to the earth, as his family did, had the advantage of having the ultimate in freshness in their food. Chef Paul first came to our attention when, in 1974, he became chef of La Bon Creole, the restaurant in the Maison Dupuy Hotel that's now Le Meritage. After a few other gigs, he turned up as executive chef of all of the restaurants operated by the Commander's Palace branch of the Brennan family. Commander's became great while he was there, as he introduced an entirely new style of Cajun and Creole cooking. During those years, Paul began encouraging young people to take up cooking as a profession--not the kind of advice they heard much in those days. He opened his own restaurant on July 3, 1979. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen (the "K" is for his late wife Kay Hinrichs, a big part of the operation) was an instant hit, and Paul's celebrity grew exponentially. He remains one of the best-known chefs in America, and his cookbooks began their long and continuing run as best-sellers. After the hurricane, Chef Paul became highly visible locally, giving free food from his spice plant in Elmwood, and camping out on the sidewalk in front of K-Paul's to encourage the revival of New Orleans. Chef Paul passed away on October 8, 2015, but his restaurant and cookbooks live on as robust as ever.

Food Calendar

It is National French Fry Day. Fried potatoes are among the greatest culinary creations of all time. Even when they're badly made, they're tempting. When well made, they're irresistible. Chefs and restaurateurs from the lowest to the highest orders brag about their fries as much as about anything. No less a gourmet than Thomas Jefferson proudly served fries at the White House. A clear uptick in the quality of restaurant French fries appeared in recent years. More of them take the trouble to cut their own from fresh potatoes. That was at one time universal. Even McDonald's use to have fresh-cut fries, as late as the 1970s. Frozen, pre-blanched, pre-cut potatoes now rule the world. They're treated with batter or flavorings to approximate the crispness and flavor of the fresh article. That must be done because most French fries are fried in advance. They may be wonderful as they come out of the fryer, but unless something is done they become limp or dry a few minutes later. I understand why fast food restaurants serve frozen potatoes. But why should seafood restaurants, neighborhood cafes, and even some uppity, expensive bistros serve frozen fries? The answer is distressing. It's that most Americans are so accustomed to eating frozen French fries that they look askance at potatoes done the right way. The problem is exacerbated by a lack of fry-making skill in some of the restaurants that try to use fresh potatoes. But the technique is simple. To make great French fries, all you have to do is fry them twice. That way they not only have that great potato flavor, but they're crisp as well. There's only one problem: after the first frying, they're really ready to eat, and some people can't resist. So there they go. I've found a way around this: I fry the potatoes at a lower temperature, but for a long time. The effect is nearly as good as frying them twice. And incomparably better than any frozen fries.

Deft Dining Rule #114

Few tidbits are better with cocktails than crisp, hot, thin French fries made from fresh potatoes.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Okra is a crossroads community on the Tennessee side of the Kentucky state line. It's 125 miles east-northeast of Nashville. It's a hilly area, with some rock outcroppings here and there. Horses are raised in a number of farms nearby. When Okrans get hungry, it's only a mile and a half south to the Farm House Restaurant. No gumbo there, though.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

When buying potatoes for making fries, buy the biggest Russet potatoes you can find. Scratch the skin lightly with your fingernail. If you see even a hint of green, put that spud back.

Edible Dictionary

edacious, (i-DAY-shuhss), adj.--Having a strong appetite for eating, voracious. The connotation is that the edacious person is not merely hungry or even famished, but possessed of a powerful desire to eat for the sake of eating. It comes from the Latrin worde "edere," which means "to eat." This is a word we ought to use more often, but with moderation.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

Today in 1937, the first Krispy Kreme doughnuts were sold to food stores in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At first, there was no doughnut shop as such, but after people came by asking to buy them they cut a hole in a wall and started vending them through a window. The recipe for the dough came from a chef in New Orleans, according to the company's lore. We've never tracked down who that might have been. But if I get my hands on that guy, I'll. . .

Food In Forest Fires

The Sour Biscuit Fire began today in 2002, when a lightning strike ignited a dry forest in Oregon. It spread to Northern California, and by the time it was brought under control it had burned a half-million acres.

Food Namesakes

Pro basketballer Spud Webb was born today in 1963. . . Jazz bass player Leroy Vinnegar was born today in 1928. . . Captain James Cook set out today in 1772 from Plymouth, England, on his second voyage of exploration of the Pacific Ocean. . . This is the birthday, in 100 B.C.E., of Julius Caesar, the first Emperor of Rome and most translated of Latin authors. The Caesar salad is named for him only indirectly.

Words To Eat By

"The hand that dips into the bottom of the pot will eat the biggest snail."--Wole Soyinka, Nigerian playwright, born today in 1934.

Words To Drink By

"You say potato, I say vodka."--Megan Mullally as Karen Walker on the television show Will & Grace.