History of the Chip
Thomas Jefferson had “potatoes served in the French manner” at a White House dinner in 1802.
The expression “French Fried Potatoes” first occurs in print in English in the 1856 work Cookery for Maids of All Work by E Warren:
“French Fried Potatoes. – Cut new potatoes in thin slices, put them in boiling fat, and a little salt; fry both sides of a light golden brown colour; drain.”
In the early 20th century, the term “French fried” was being used in the sense of “deep-fried”, for other foods such as onion rings or chicken.
It is unlikely that “French fried” refers to frenching in the sense of julienning, which is not attested until after French fried potatoes. Previously, Frenching referred only to trimming meat off the shanks of chops.
It is claimed that fries originated in Belgium, and the on-going dispute between the French and Belgians about where they were invented is highly contentious, with both countries claiming ownership.
Belgian journalist Jo Gérard claims that a 1781 family manuscript recounts that potatoes were deep-fried prior to 1680 in what was then the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium), in the Meuse valley: “The inhabitants of Namur, Andenne, and Dinant, had the custom of fishing in the Meuse for small fish and frying, especially among the poor, but when the river was frozen and fishing became hazardous, they cut potatoes in the form of small fish and put them in a fryer like those here.”
Gérard has not produced the manuscript that supports this claim, which, even if true, is unrelated to the later history of the French fry, as the potato did not arrive in the region until around 1735. Also, given 18th century economic conditions: “It is absolutely unthinkable that a peasant could have consecrated large quantities of fat for cooking potatoes. At most they were sautéed in a pan…”.
Some people believe that the term “French” was introduced when British and American soldiers arrived in Belgium during World War I and consequently tasted Belgian fries.They supposedly called them “French”, as it was the local language and official language of the Belgian Army at that time, believing themselves to be in France. At this time, the term “French fries” was growing popular; however, in the south of Netherlands, bordering Belgium, they were, and still are, called Vlaamse frieten (“Flemish fries”).
“Pommes frites”, “frites” (French), or “frieten” (Dutch) became the national snack and a substantial part of several national dishes, such as Moules-frites or Steak-frites.
In France and other French-speaking countries, fried potatoes are formally pommes de terre frites, but more commonly pommes frites, patates frites, or simply frites. The word “aiguillettes” or allumettes is used when the chips are very small and thin.
One enduring origin story holds that French Fries were invented by street vendors on the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris in 1789, just before the outbreak of the French revolution. Eating potatoes was promoted in France by Parmentier, but he did not mention fried potatoes in particular. Many Americans attribute the dish to France and offer as evidence a notation by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. “Pommes de terre frites à cru, en petites tranches” (“Potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small cuttings”) in a manuscript in Thomas Jefferson’s hand (circa 1801–1809) and the recipe almost certainly comes from his French chef, Honoré Julien. In addition, from 1813 on, recipes for what can be described as French fries occur in popular American cookbooks. By the late 1850s, one of these uses the term French fried potatoes.
Frites are the main ingredient in the Canadian dish of Québécois descent known in both Canadian English and French as poutine, consisting of fried potatoes covered with cheese curds and gravy, a dish with a growing number of variations.
The J. R. Simplot Company is credited with successfully commercializing French fries in frozen form during the 1940s. Subsequently, in 1967, Ray Kroc of McDonald’s contracted the Simplot company to supply them with frozen fries, replacing fresh-cut potatoes.
Traditionally, chips in the United Kingdom are cut much thicker and are typically between 10 and 15 mm (3/8–1/2 inches) wide. Since the surface-to-volume ratio is lower, they have a lower fat content. Thick-cut, or beefsteak, British chips are occasionally made from unpeeled potatoes. Chips are not necessarily served as crisp as the continental European French fry due to their relatively high water content.
As with all members of the deep-fried chip family, they are cooked twice, once at a relatively low temperature to cook the potato, and then at a higher temperature to crisp the surface, making them crunchy on the outside and fluffier on the inside.
The first chips fried in the UK were on the site of Oldham’s Tommyfield Market in 1860. A blue plaque in Oldham marks the origin of the fish and chip shop and fast food industries in Britain. In Scotland, chips were first sold in Dundee, “…in the 1870s, that glory of British gastronomy – the chip – was first sold by Belgian immigrant Edward De Gernier in the city’s Greenmarket”.
Although chips were already a popular dish in most Commonwealth countries, the thin style of French fries has been popularized worldwide in part by the large American fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Arby’s.
Pre-made French fries have been available for home cooking since the 1960s, usually having been pre-fried (or sometimes baked), frozen and placed in a sealed plastic bag.
Some later varieties of French fries are battered and breaded, and many fast-food chains in the U.S. dust the potatoes with kashi, dextrin, and other flavor coatings for crispier fries with particular tastes. Results with batterings and breadings, followed by microwaving, have not achieved widespread critical acceptance. Oven frying delivers a dish different from deep-fried potatoes.