Ketchup is the perfect pairing for french fries if the french fries are bad. That’s my opinion, and that’s a compliment to ketchup. Ketchup can save a shit fry from the depths of inedibility. You can mask a lot of imperfections with sugar, salt, and high-fructose corn syrup, a devil’s holy trinity of addictive ingredients. But a perfectly crisp, expertly prepared french fry? A french fry at a good restaurant or made by a capable home cook? Something that you know is done right and goes straight from the fryer to your plate? In those cases, ketchup isn’t what I want, and it isn’t what those fries need.
There are two types of fries: the stuff you get at fast food chains and the stuff you get at restaurants. I’ve mostly moved past the fast food ones. (French fries and a Frosty? Sure, why don’t I just announce to the whole world that I’ll never own a home.) And I don’t keep packets of fast food sauces in my kitchen drawer because, I’m sorry, I don’t eat fast food. Besides, there’s nothing special about Taco Bell sauce. KFC’s honey mustard sucks. I’m not in college. If this bothers you, good. Leave. I’d like to speak to the grown-ups here.
I like a little zest, a little flavor, a little depth to my fries and sauce. And I’m not alone. I’ve seen line cooks at the end of a dinner rush ripping open a bag of frozen fries and whipping up a delicious French sauce in a 10-inch pan, taking something reserved for a main course and dripping that decadent, viscous sauce onto some fried potatoes. That’s what this is about. This is about when the flat flavor of ketchup just won’t do. When you want to eat nothing but a plate of sauced-up french fries with a damn fork.
Once I worked for a guy named Joe, but everyone called him Pump. He wasn’t particularly jacked or anything like that. Maybe he used to be, I don’t know. Joe spent some time in prison, and he wore a lot of brown sweaters and gold chains. Always had on a ton of cologne. One time when he found out I was lying about my work availability he scheduled me to work 50 hours in a week. I was 16. Oh, I just remembered he was in prison for almost beating a man to death. Wild.
Anyway, the thing I remember most about Pump is that he ate a lot of french fries and demi-glace. The man craved it. After a long Saturday night managing the front of the house, he would come back on the line, heat up some rich, brown, savory demi-glace, then pour that concentrated umami sludge over fried potatoes. Joe taught me an important lesson: If it’s good on steak, it’s good on fries.
Demi-glace has a rich, concentrated beef flavor that acts like a meat syrup for french fries. It’s deeply satisfying. If you want to stay true to the sauce, you’ll need homemade veal stock or beef stock. Then it’s just reduce, reduce, reduce. Don’t call it poutine. It’s not gravy; it’s demi.
Say it with me: If it’s good on steak...
....*audience roars* It’s good on French fries!
I made a steak au poivre a few months back and I just woke up 12 hours ago. It’s a delightfully simple preparation that mostly involves crushing some fresh peppercorns with the back of a pan, sautéing them, deglazing with cognac, and then adding cream. If you’re without cognac I really do think some good old-fashioned Worcestershire does the trick, too. There’s a ton of flavor in Worcestershire. As David Chang recently pointed out on Instagram, “I wonder if people know that it’s made of fermented anchovies and tamarind?”
Lastly in the trifecta of steak sauces is chimichurri. I would eat a plate of french fries and chimichurri with a fork as a dinner, no problem. Chimichurri and French fries reiterate a classic point: Potatoes are always better with herbs. A healthy amount of garlic, acid, oregano, parsley, cilantro, and oil elevates fries without taking them into snobby, fine dining territory. It’s just tasty and sensible.
This ultra-garlicky eggless Lebanese mayo is perfect for French fries. Maybe you don’t like mayonnaise on french fries, and I respect that. But I would argue the problem with mayonnaise on french fries is that the mayonnaise is usually bad. Packets of overly flavorless and gloppy mayo won’t do. It needs flavor. Duke’s is great. And any utterance of “aioli” better have a healthy amount of garlic and lemon. I think of most store-bought mayonnaise as a canvas. It needs help. Though toum isn’t a mayonnaise, per se, it’s got the same consistency, tons more flavor, and hey, it’s vegan.
We’re getting into “flavored mayo” territory here and the possibilities are endless, but remoulade is essentially all the burger toppings whipped into a sauce. That concept hits. “Remoulade” itself is almost a freestyle term; any remoulade can be made vastly different from any other, as opposed to the industry standard taste of tartar sauce. Most remoulades come with chopped pickles and onions, but really you can add anything to it and it makes sense. It’s also reminiscent of In-N-Out’s animal-style sauce. Animal-style on well-prepared french fries (which you would have to order at a different restaurant) would make a ton of sense.
Anytime somebody implies that I’m a food snob I truly have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about, because I deploy ranch frequently. But not that shit in a bottle. No, Hidden Valley lacks in just about every way. However, a good, homemade, herby ranch that blows out a lot of dry spices in your cupboard is a thing of beauty. Ranch should be speckled with spices and herbs. It should be unrecognizable from the bottled stuff in taste. Once it is, well, it becomes a top dipping sauce for french fries.