Kimberley Lovato interviews the self-proclaimed ‘Missionary of the Belgian Fries’ and uncovers the sacred rituals of Belgian frites.
While the country has many top Belgian places to offer visitors and residents alike, Belgium is known around the world for one thing in particular: pomme frites, otherwise commonly referred to as French fries or, perhaps more correctly, Belgian fries. Despite their French name, frites are Belgian.
Michel Mes, self-proclaimed ‘Missionary of the Belgian Fries’, started his website Belgianfries.com in 1995. At one point he received at least 10 emails a day from inquiring fans, and travelled the world promoting franchise opportunities, while spreading the word about the true Belgian fries, proper tools and techniques, and most importantly, how best to eat them.
Your website is an homage to Belgian fries. What prompted you?
As an IT guy more than 15 years ago when the internet was opened for the big public consumption, I needed a subject to practise the new HTML programming language. I chose ‘The Secret Recipe for Belgian Fries’. I thought it would be a good idea to promote this great Belgian food and let the world know where ‘French’ fries really come from. It was an instant success. Everything grew out of proportion from then on.
What is the secret to making the best Belgian fries?
The trick is very simple: Belgian fries are double-fried. First there is the cooking process, then the Belgian fries need to cool down and finally, just before serving, they are fried again to make them crispy and golden brown.
Of course, the correct type of potatoes is very important, as is the choice of frying oil. Belgian fries should always be fried in animal fat; in Belgium it used to be a mixture of horse and ox fat. These days most shops will use an ox fat and vegetable oil mixture. Details on how to do this at home are on my website.
Do you use a Belgian fries recipe?
I have no Belgian fries recipe. I use the two-stage frying method, but as potatoes are a ‘living’ raw material (ie. their structure changes throughout the season) you need some experience to cook them to perfection. It is different every time, you need to watch and listen, especially during the first frying. It is very hard to explain but practice makes perfect.
What is the biggest mistake when people try to recreate Belgian fries?
Don’t put too many raw potatoes strips into the fryer for the first frying! The temperature of the oil will drop down dramatically, the water in the potatoes will not escape quickly enough and thus the result will be too greasy. For a perfect final result you need to pay close attention to the first frying. The second frying will not correct any mistakes made earlier.
How should Belgian fries be served and what’s your favourite Belgian sauce?
I never eat sauce with my Belgian fries. Good Belgian fries will have a lot of taste on their own. Don’t spoil it with sauce. A bit of salt is ok. And please serve in a paper cone. But if I need to make a choice I would go for mayonnaise (home made of course) or a spicy sauce like Banzai.
What’s your favourite location in Brussels to eat Belgian fries?
Chez Martin (Place Saint-Josse). He used to run a very nice looking stand next to the church but moved to somewhere else in the area of the Rue des Deux Eglises. A lot of tourists know Chez Antoine (place Jourdan) but I don’t like their fries. The toll of their success I guess.
Does it bother you that Belgian fries are referred to as French fries?
Not at all, because it is a totally different product. Once more, after the chocolate, pralines and a lot of other 100 products, the term ‘Belgian’ stands for freshness and quality. Also, the term French fries does not link to the French people or country. It is derived from the old English verb ‘to french’; originally they were called ‘frenched fried potatoes’.
How often do you eat Belgian frites?
Maybe two times a month. You should never exaggerate the good things in life!