Dan Gordon of Gordon-Biersch invented garlic fries when he was studying in Germany. Sadly though when he came back to the US and opened up the first Gordon-Biersch restaurant with Dean Biersch it wasn’t in San Francisco, but in Palo Alto. Garlic fries though didn’t get much attention until they opened up their San Francisco restaurant and started selling them at AT&T Park and that was the day that baseball and garlic fries got married together.
Everyone has garlic fries now and it’s no wonder because they’re so easy to make. It’s a 3-2-1 recipe that even an idiot can make. Take 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley whip it all together and toss it on some freshly deep fried potato bits. Gilroy who hosts it’s own garlic festival sells them as well, but they from what I’ve heard bake, not deep fry the potatoes.
Nothing is as good in it’s greasy goodness as a deep fried strip of potato. Crispy and crunchy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. When you add the oil, garlic and parsley to it, it just becomes even better. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that garlic fries made an introduction onto the San Francisco food scene and they made an instant hit. I don’t get to eat them too often because when I do I tend to eat too many and my wife banishes me to the other room for a three days because I tend to reek of garlic. It is a fate that is understandably worth it for me since I happen to love garlic and will add it to just about anything. The secret to adding the garlic to the fries is a wide bowl with the fries in it then you toss in the mixture then you have to learn that special one hand flick of the wrist that tosses them up and over, like you see a professional chef flip an omelette. It takes a bit of practice, but you don’t want to stir them around because then you break up the fries. The flick/flip does the job much better.
I do remember in the 80’s there was a shop at Ghiradelli Square called Pomme Frites that sold french fries with a variety of dipping sauces, many of them based off the Belgian tradition of mayonnaise on fries [don’t knock it until you’ve tried it], but there was no garlic in any of their sauce blends. It seems odd to me since now it just seems like such an obvious addition to add to the fries.
I have a small deep fryer that I’ll probably use to test my own riff on this dish. The trick supposedly in making the best fries to fry them twice and starting with russet potatoes that you’ve skinned and soaked in cold water for one to eight hours before cutting them into 1/4″ strips. First at a low temperature of 325° to oil cook them, then drain and flash fry them at a higher temperature of 375° to sear the outsides while keeping the insides moist and crispy. The sizzle when they hit the oil is actually the water inside the potatoes coming out of the fries so if you’ve cooked them to the point they stopped sizzling the water is out and the oil gets sucked in through reverse osmosis and those are some bad greasy fries.
I’m glad to see that San Francisco isn’t resting on it’s laurels with rice-a-roni, sourdough bread and dungeness crab. I’m glad that we can come up with a few new traditions in food that we can claim as ours and that change the world around us. Hell, even Trader Joe’s sells them now, but they’re still no comparison to the original.