Eater contributor Catherine De Orio is a blogger, writer, entrepreneur, Check, Please! finalist, TV and radio personality. In her weekly Tasting Trends piece, she scours the city for what's trending on the dining scene and where you can taste the trend. Follow her culinary adventures on Twitter @CatCalls. This week's trend: French Fries.
Wood [Photo: Facebook]
In honor of burger week, Eater decided to focus on fries, the trend-defying, long-time meat patty companion. Making these simple sticks of salty goodness requires more finesse than may be immediately apparent. It's one ingredient that's deep-fried, right? Yes, but as is often the case in the culinary world, simple dishes are anything but when it comes to execution. To find out what it takes to make a nirvana-inducing fry, Eater spoke to chef Ashlee Aubin from Backwoods at Wood, a late-night, take-out Belgian fry window in the bustling Lakeview neighborhood.
The idea for a take-away fry joint came about quite naturally. Aubin explains that although the area is heavily populated with bars, there were very few late night food options. So in an effort to right that wrong, they settled on a fry shack-style window designed to quickly dole out heaping cups of steaming fries to late night revelers. "We wanted to do something that could be done fast and be executed very well," he says, "and with fries you have one ingredient and you do one thing to it."
"You can take one bite into a fry, "he says, "and immediately tell if it's a good fry or not." When determining whether a fry is well-made or not, there are a couple things one should keep in mind: Exterior crunch and interior texture. Aubin states, "Is it poofy or squishy?more like a baked potato or a mashed potato." At Backwoods, they are designed to be crispy on the outside with a lighter, fluffier middle. "Ours have a long crunch with a fluffy almost hollow center," he says.
So how do they make the perfect fry? It's a full two-day process. "If you try to rush it, you will sacrifice an extra bit of that long-lasting crunch at the end." According to Aubin, classic Idaho russet and Kennebec potatoes (which they use when in season) are the best potatoes with which to make fries. "It's all about starch and water content," he explains, "You want to use really fresh, non-waxy potatoes and these are the best two examples." The potatoes are hand-cut and then soaked in water multiple times to pull the starch out. The fries are then thoroughly chilled before blanching and then chilling again. To finish, they are deep fried to order and tossed in salt before serving. Aubin even gives the salt extra thought—he uses a mixture of Kosher and Maldon Salt. "The kosher sticks to the fries and the Maldon gives a big pop of salt," he says.
And last, but not least, when are they best to eat? "Literally ten seconds out of the fryer," Aubin answers without hesitation. At Backwoods, that's when you get them.
Head to these places to taste the trend and check out creative takes on the classic fry--Be sure to leave your favorite fry dish in the comments:
Backwoods at Wood | 3335 North Halsted Street | 773.935.9663
A parchment paper cone of fries is accompanied by a choice of 7-8 dipping sauces, rotating between garlic-ailoi, Memphis-style barbecue sauce, and malt vinegar to name a few, but one always remains constant: truffle mayo—because "people just dig it." And all the sauces are made in-house save for the ketchup, which is plain old Heinz. Aubin explains, "You can't make a better ketchup, so it's the only thing we don't make."
Big & Little's | 860 North Orleans Street | 312.943.0000
Their foie gras fries, quite possibly a match made in heaven, are executed to perfection. These hand-cut, cooked to order fries are blanched and then fried in canola oil resulting in a fluffy interior, encased by a crispy exterior. They are then topped with pan-seared lobes of foie gras and finished with rendered foie fat drizzled over the top.
Au Cheval | 800 West Randolph Street | 312.929.4580
When it comes to decadent diner food this place can do no wrong?and their fries are no exception. The crispy fries drizzled with creamy mornay sauce, topped with a farm fresh fried egg and served with extra mornay sauce, as well as an addictive garlic aioli, on the side will keep you coming back for more.
Public House | 400 North State Street | 312.265.1240
This popular gastropub offers dry-rubbed (a blend of garlic, onion, smoked paprika and cumin) or sea salt & parsley seasoning styles for their hand-cut fries. Each order comes with three dipping sauces of which options abound including cheesy cheddar ale, spicy smoked jalapeño aioli, creamy tzaziki, a trio of barbeque sauces and even an eggplant caponata.
Cru Kitchen & Bar | 25 East Delaware Place | 312.337.4001
In partnership with One Part Plant, the go-to source for all things plant-based, Cru created a special fries dish for the month of April. The perfectly crisp quinoa fries are served with seasonal mushrooms, a miso sauce and drizzled with just the right amount of truffle oil. And if you absolutely can't forgo meat, they also make a version with pulled pork (and fried egg) thrown into the mix.
Edzo's Burger Shop | 1571 Sherman Avenue | 847.864.3396
Although they offer a plethora of enticing fry selections, the angry fries stand out for any heat-lover. A basket of crispy fries are topped with Italian giardiniera, red and bird's eye chilies, jalapenos as well as hot sauce. So hot, you may need to order the creamy Nutella milkshake to cool you down.
The Pump Room at Public Hotel | 1301 North State Parkway | 312.229.6740
Fries at The Pump Room are prepared traditionally by blanching and deep-frying them. To step up this simple preparation, rosemary, thyme and parsley are added to the oil halfway through the frying process allowing the herbs to crisp alongside the fries, resulting in an end product so full of flavor, they need nothing more than sea salt and cracked pepper to finish.
Frietkoten Belgian Fries & Beer | 131 North Clinton Street | 312.575.0306 Located inside the French Market, this traditional 'fry shack' style stall serves up made-to-order Belgian style fries with up to 20 different dipping sauces daily, including curried ketchup and truffle mayo. The only thing wrong with this place is that it closes up too early.
Frog 'N' Snail | 3124 North Broadway | 773.661.9166
The house fries here are thinly cut and tossed with smoked paprika (a nod to Chef Dale Levitski's Eastern European heritage). These can be ordered as a side, but their use as a playful twist on his signature Lyonnaise salad is a must try. The salad is composed of frisee, haricot vert, candy striped and golden beets, lardon and radish tossed in black truffle vinaigrette, all topped with a poached egg sitting atop a bed of paprika fries (in place of the traditional boiled potatoes).
Inovasi | 28 East Center Avenue | 847.295.1000
A recent addition to the snack section of the menu at this Lake Bluff restaurant, they boast frying their fries nine times to get maximum fluffiness on the interior and a super crispy exterior. They are then tossed in a togarashi spice blend of chili peppers, powdered yuzu, sesame and nori and served with a creamy Thai peanut dipping sauce.
Japonais | 600 West Chicago Avenue | 312.822.9600
The hand-cut sweet potato fries here are made with satsumaimo, a Japanese sweet potato. The fries are quickly blanched, fried and then tossed in Japanese togarashi (a seven spice blend) with ayo-nori (a high grade green seaweed) added. Served with a side of spicy mayonnaise, these fries hit every flavor button.
Franks 'n' Dawgs | 1863 North Clybourn Avenue | 312.281.5187
Order the Triple Truffle Fries and hit the truffle trifecta. Golden, crispy waffle-cut fries are tossed in a combination of truffle oil, truffle butter and truffle salt before being finished with a garnish of fresh parsley.
Ada Street | 1664 North Ada Street | 773.697.7069
The crispy polenta fries, made from hand cut sticks of parmesan polenta that have been deep-fried, deliver a salty, satisfying crunch. For an added pop of flavor they are served with a smoky-sweet chipotle puree for dipping.
Covo Gyro Market | 1482 Milwaukee Avenue | 312.626.2660
The fries at Covo are the same as Boise Fry Company (owned by Prasino chef Riley Huddleston) that were named best fries in the country by Travel & Leisure, Yahoo, and the Food Network. They go Mediterranean with the thin-cut "Greek it" version topped with feta cheese, Mediterranean spices, and fresh lemon.
BopNgrill | 6604 North Sheridan Road | 773.654.3224
The kimchi fries at this Rogers Park eatery give French fries a Korean twist. These loaded fries are smothered in jalapeño cheese sauce and topped with sautéed kimchi, sesame seeds, crispy bits of bacon and diced scallions.
Catherine De Orio dishes on all things cuisine, cocktail and cosmopolitan for editorial and broadcast outlets locally and nationally. You can follow her on Twitter @CatCalls
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