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The Fries Have It

Any way you slice them, loaded french fries and poutine are versatile and flavorful menu favorites.   

“Do you want fries with that?”

The better question for today’s diners is: “What would you like on your fries?” Hint: The answer isn’t ketchup.

According to 2016 MenuMonitor data from Technomic Inc., menu mentions of loaded fries grew by 12.5 percent and poutine is up 22 percent during the past two years. More than just a side, fries are now an opportunity to pile heartiness and more flavor onto the plate, demonstrate creativity and create differentiation. Moreover, premium fries offer to build sales across dayparts in satisfying ways for all-day grazers in search of satisfying sharing-plates, snack, bar and even breakfast items.

“Americans love potatoes, they love fries and consumers seek items not easy to make at home,” says Gordon Food Service® Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC. “Little deep-frying goes on in the home, so consumers look to restaurants.”

Three opportunities, Ludwig says, are standouts. 

Signature premium french fries

In general, Ludwig explains, this term refers to fries hand-cut in-house, cooked in some sort of animal fat and accompanied by unique toppings (e.g., a sprinkle of coarse-grained sea salt or smoked paprika) or housemade signature condiment/ sauce.

“We’re seeing an increase in the number of potato dishes cooked in beef tallow, lard and duck fat,” he says. “When cooking in that sort of natural fat, you’re getting a huge flavor boost. It’s truly the only way to create a french fry with zero trans fats.” Just be sure, he stresses, to dedicate a high-end tabletop fryer for cooking animal-fat fries. 

Fries cooked in animal fat, he adds, are particularly appealing to millennials and Gen Z, who perceive them as more natural than mechanically and chemically extracted vegetable oil. 

Smothered fries and poutines

Canada’s national comfort food—fries tossed with cheddar-cheese curds doused and made melty with hot brown gravy—has gone mainstream here. “Poutine’s popularity is not decreasing,” Ludwig says. 

“The sweet spot with poutine is crispy fries with saucy cheese as opposed brown gravy and cheddar curds,” Ludwig says. “You can also use global and American regional flavors to create your own signature poutine. There’s a huge opportunity for full-service and at sit-down restaurants to make poutine a bit more special and take it to another level.”

Examples: 

  • Smothered fries with sautéed chorizo and brown gravy—Son of a Butcher, Chicago. 
  • Confit frites. Fries topped with pulled, braised and pan-fried chicken thigh meat, garlic and brie sauce—Trade Street, Chicago. 

Crunchy potato chunks, B-size potatoes or fingerlings

A number of uncomplicated fried-potato dishes deliver flavor, texture and distinction to snack and sharing-plates menus without necessarily being deep-fried. They don’t have to be complicated; but they do have to be flavorful.

Examples:

  • Spanish Patatas Bravas—fried potato chunks topped with sour cream, spicy marinara sauce and garlic aioli—Bernie’s Lunch, Chicago.
  • Tater-Tot Man Salad. Fried tater tots, cheese sauce and purèed kimchee—Seoul Sausage Company, Los Angeles

The keys to flavorful fries

Sauces/gravies:

  • Housemade kimchee sauce.
  • Romesco.
  • Various pestos, on their own or combined with mayo. 
  • Vegetable stock (for meatless versions).
  • Any regular sauce or gravy on your menu.
  • Reduced meat sauces with cream.

Proteins:

  • Braised meats.
  • Roasted meats sautéed carnita-style for crispy-crunchiness.
  • Roasted meats breaded and fried for crunchiness.
  • Thin slices of dices of sausage.
  • Diced chicken, turkey or pork.
  • Eggs—sunny-side up or poached.

Indulgent cheeses:

  • Soft ripened cheeses—e.g., brie.
  • Melty cheeses—e.g., Gouda and Muenster.
  • Aged cheeses—e.g., cheddar, Parmesan, Romano and Asiago.