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Why Is The Taste And Crispness Of Fries And Potato Skins Different From The Fifties And Sixties? Or, Goodbye Lard.

Q:

What was used on baked potato skins in the 50's & 60's for a crisp skin? It had a chemical sounding name I think. I have exhausted my searches with no luck. Thanks!

It seems like all the flavor has gone out of the French fries at my favorite chains, not like I used to remember them. What happened?

Our customers have been asking us to come up with a more healthy way to fix our breakfast potatoes. It is probably the only thing we finish off in the fryer on our menu now. Oven baking just doesn’t have the same crispness.

A:

All very good questions, thank you for asking. Crispy potatoes, more often than not are just hard to achieve without oil. With potato skins, back in the olden days (I can say that as I grew up during the golden age of fast food and diners growing in numbers to exceed the local or neighborhood restaurants), the secrets to crispy potato skins were to bake potatoes, let them cool enough to handle and cut horizontally and then remove some of the “pulp” and then fry them. The frying medium usually was lard or animal fat. A couple of chains also used rosin oil.

For the French fry question, the answer is pretty much similar, animal fats were the predominant way to make the best tasting French fry. Some upper end restaurants still do this or use a decadent duck fat for extra crispy flavorful fries. It was not unusual, if you worked at a fast food joint to go in in the morning and immediately turn on the fryer to get the solid white mass of oil to start to melt. Trans-fats became two of the worst words in foodservice and within an amazingly short five years almost every frying oil has switched over in the chains and high volume independents to a low or as measured no trans-fat vegetable based oil. One large hamburger chain actually added back in a combination of ingredients to replicate the taste of animal fat at one time. One of the advantages of the “high in trans-fat” oils is that they did not breakdown from heat as easily and could be used over and over again.

Breakfast potatoes… par boiling chunks of potatoes first and then tossing in an oil mixture before oven roasting may help. My favorite way to roast Brussels sprouts is to use a fifty fifty mixture of olive oil and melted butter. Gets the nice browning and flavor combination that is out of this world. At home I do the same with breakfast potatoes, try it!