Savvy chefs know a strong foundation leads to a winning dish that stands strong in any possible iteration. Take french fries, the crowd favorite on more than half of restaurant menus in the U.S., according to food research firm Datassential.
Fries can be the perfunctory partner to burgers and chicken sandwiches, but when they are that perfect combination of an audible crunch and a fluffy texture, they’re poised for so much more.
In fact, many chefs, including Lee Hanson, chef/co-owner of Frenchette and the recently opened Le Rock in New York City, say that quality fries define the overall quality of the restaurant. The subtext: If you care that much about a ubiquitous food, the standards must be high.
For Hanson and Chef/Co-Owner Riad Nasr, the quintessential fry is crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. An even dusting of salt is also essential, Hanson says.
But given labor challenges and cost-saving efforts, not all restaurants can commit to a two-day, in-house prep. For those businesses, a frozen product gets the job better than done. Lamb Weston®, a leading supplier of frozen potato products, offers a category of fries aptly named “Extra Crispy” in various cuts, lengths and thicknesses. These fries stay crispy for 30 minutes and reheat nicely, chefs say, which is especially important for to-go orders. No one wants to be associated with soggy fries that have basically steamed in the takeout container.
Because french fries are a beloved, legacy food, they’re the ideal canvas for riffing and increasing the check average as a shareable appetizer or side dish. The goal: make it hard for diners to pass up.
Truffle fries (drizzled with truffle oil or sprinkled with truffle salt) are expected to grow annually at 105% through 2024, according to the most recent Datassential report on the fried spud, while loaded fries are projected at a 35% increase through the same period. Lamb Weston Extra Crispy fries are ideal for topped and loaded recipes because they stay crispy, regardless of the sauces or toppings. Loaded, however, is relative, and doesn’t always mean poutine.
As chefs work on the power of umami, it’s fitting that furikake is showing up on fries. At 808 Grinds in Portland, Oregon, fries are tossed with garlic and the Japanese seasoning for $5.50. Garlic is also tossed on hot-out-of-the-fryer spuds, but with fresh cilantro at Detroit 75 in Detroit.
Matt Wilde, chef/owner of Bob’s Pizza, with several location in the Chicago area, serves garlic, parmesan and herbs on fries as well as hot blue cheese and scallions, both at $7.
More Than Ketchup
Aioli continues to dominate dips that partner with fries, but increasingly as a base, combining mayonnaise and garlic along with a seasoning or spice. Dijon aioli accompanies the $15 shoe-string fries at Olivetta in Los Angeles; parmesan aioli comes with the $6.60 fries at the Screen Door in Portland, Oregon.
Aioli is also an opportunity to create a signature sauce by adding seasonings from the existing pantry, such as citrus and a root vegetable to create a yuzu beet aioli. Chef/Owner Maximillian Petty of Big Max Burger Co. in Seattle pairs his herb-salted large $5.50 fries with “max sauce,” a mixture of aioli, mustard, relish, ketchup and “spices.”
Dips contribute several elements to dining, including flavor and the interactive nature of dipping, and cross-utilization (dips can also be used to toss salad, complement sandwiches or smear on a plate with a grilled or fried protein). For example, the $8.50 Old Bay fries at Lehrhaus in Somerville, Massachusetts, can be upsold at $2 for either schug (spicy herb condiment) aioli or amba tahina (spicy mango pickle condiment).
Plenty of dip inspiration is on hand at Saus in Boston, such as pimento cheddar mayo, garlic chickpea, curry ketchup, avocado-based green goddess and Sweet Bill’s Barbecue Sauce.
Fries that Work
As if taking a cue from gyro pita sandwiches served in Greece, fries stuffed into sandwiches are increasingly showing up on menus. At Fairfax Tavern and Bar in New York City, fries come with dijonnaise for $11, but they also top the $19 burger with barbecue mayo, cheddar and red onion.
Brothers Mike and Ahmad Nassar, who found success with sandwiches at Detroit 75, tuck their garlic cilantro fries into the $13 Russet Street Veggie. The sandwich also includes lettuce, tomato, smoked onions and peppers, mushrooms, provolone, roasted jalapeño ketchup, smoked tomatillo salsa and garlic cilantro aioli.
Sometimes, though, the perfectly crispy fry is the culinary equivalent of a wingman: It delivers the goods. Every entrée at Gertrude’s in New York City comes with fries, including the $29 dill pickle-brined half chicken roasted with braised fennel and mustard sauce. They stand ready to up the overall flavor quotient.
But no matter how fries complement a dish, remaining crispy and fluffy – the attributes of Lamb Weston Extra Crispy Fries – are tantamount for the best possible diner experience.