There are few foods that have been eaten at some point by just about everyone in the Western world, but French fries are one of them. Call them fries, call them chips, call them frites — whatever you call them, fried potato sticks are one of the most universally beloved junk foods on earth.
What is it about fries that makes them so popular? It’s probably the fact that, calorie count aside, they’re the perfect food. When submerged in hot oil that’s the right temperature for the right amount of time, something magical happens to sticks of sliced potatoes: They get golden brown and crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and become the perfect vessel for just about any topping, from salt and ketchup to gravy and cheese curds.
Ask any chef and he or she will tell you that there’s a real science behind making perfect French fries. If the oil is too cold, they’ll be limp and soggy; if it’s too hot, the outside will burn before the inside is cooked. All great fries need to be cooked twice; once in cooler oil to “blanch” them, and again in hotter oil right before service to crisp them up. The starch level needs to be just right, too; many chefs let their fries sit in water before cooking to allow some of the excess starch to drain. When a fry is great it’s legendary; when a fry is bad it’s really bad.
Whether they’re Ore-Ida fries from the freezer section of your supermarket, fries hot out of the fryer from McDonald’s, or fries served alongside a burger at your local diner, French fries seem everywhere you turn in this country. But they’re not just an American food (as their name might imply), they’re popular the world over. And why not? Fries are just about impossible to dislike. Read on for six things you might not have known about this legendary snack.