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French Fry Frenzy

When it comes to fast food, who delivers the superior fried side?

Shoestring, curly, waffle, crinkle, skin-on, seasoned — there's really no wrong way to prepare a french fry. I could wax poetic for days about the merits of any number of Richmond-specific fries (The dipping sauces! The truffle oils! The double-fried breading!), but now's not the time.

In surveying my colleagues about fast food fries, I was surprised by the results, though I'm not sure what I expected. More variety, perhaps? McDonald's and Five Guys were tied as the clear winners, with Arby's coming in second place and one sad, lonely little vote for Burger King. No mention of Wendy's, and more than one person noted that Chick-fil-A wasn't a contender due to the chain's controversial history of donating millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ groups. Two critics abstained entirely, explaining that they don't eat fast food often enough to have an opinion. I've seen KFC listed on french fry roundups but those are potato wedges, decidedly not fries, so get outta here with that.

Frankly I've met nary a fry that I wouldn't happily scarf down, whether it's lovingly hand-cut and sprinkled with a house-made blend of herbs, or hastily scooped from a warming bin into a cardboard container. And even for the mediocre fries, let's not underestimate the power of a good dipping sauce — honey mustard is the obvious way to go on that front, but I'm not here to tell you how to live your life. — Laura Ingles

Like a moth to the flame, so am I, eventually, to a red, grease-kissed carton of Mickey D's fries. I should know better. I really do know better. But try as I might, these perfectly crispy tubers are unavoidable as a type of comfort food, an addictively golden, salty starch. These are the fries that made childhood meals happy. The ones we heard rumors about containing the addictive, stimulating compound nicotine. (They don't.)

Because I don't know any better, I did some light research recently to learn how this iconic global side dish gets made. Surprisingly, the company is pretty open about its processing and ingredients as it pivots to appear more consumer-conscious to the 68 million people who eat at one of their franchises each day.

The summary: There are 19 ingredients. Nineteen! While you can rest easy that real potatoes (and vegetable oils) are some of them, the rest could be sort of discouraging. There's the sugar they're coated with to keep the golden coloration we're all so fond of. There's also a dash of an anti-foaming agent (Mmmm, delicious dimethylpolysiloxane!) they're treated with to make the kitchen fryer less of a disaster zone while churning out batches for the masses. Ignorance can be bliss. A medium carton costs you 340 calories and 24 percent of your daily fat values, according to McDonald's online nutrition calculator.

But forget about the undeniable health impairment that long-term consumption will bring about. Think, just for a moment, about the poetry of how each slender fry gets mass-produced. The washed and peeled potatoes rocket through a grater at 60 to 70 miles per hour, creating that perfect square edge on each fry, a model of nostalgic, convenient culinary indulgence. — Paul Brockwell Jr.

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