This post could have been titled “grease is good,” or “slip slidin’ down the hatch.” Or something else appropriately tacky and thus inappropriate. Truth is that frying things using various forms of fat, be it animal or otherwise, has long been a staple of mankind’s diet. And who are we to question culinary history, even if it’s a major cause of cardiovascular disease? But let’s not dwell on that sordid aspect. Instead, we’ll look on the bright side of life.
If one were to survey a list of favorite foods, especially comfort foods, the frying-fat thing would be the common denominator. It’s not like a poached salmon filet would top the list, much less even be mentioned. A salmon filet sauteed in butter with a squeeze of lemon might make a cameo, but only after all the other delicious comestibles were mentioned. With that, I’m going to take Julie Andrews’ lead, at least from The Sound of Music, and list some of my favorite fried things. In fact, I’m going to invite Julie to join me. And she doesn’t even have to wear the nanny/apron outfit and sport the pixie hairdo. I’m reasonably sure she’d agree to the conversation. After all, the Brits are unusually adept at frying things. After all, wasn’t it a Scottish chef who first figured out you could deep fry a Mars Bar with splendid results?
Before reading through my list, I’d pour Julie and me a glass of something bubbly. Being a legendary actress and singer of stage and screen—and one of my big-time boyhood crushes, I’d opt for something rarified in the Champagne world like Bollinger RD or Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. I’d also open a bag of chips because they happen to be near the top on the list. Of course, they are. So without further ado, here is a list of my favorite fried things, including suggested beverage pairings.
Could be the ultimate comfort food. Even when frozen and at their mediocre worst, french fries are a thing of sizzling beauty. MacDonald’s, for one, has perfected the art of making tasty french fries on a mass, even global scale. In fact, French Fries are the only reason to ever darken a Mickie D’s door given that other things on the menu are two molecules away from plastic. Otherwise, true french fries, as in done in goose fat or duck fat, are one of culinary life’s greatest gifts. It reminds me of one of the restaurants at the fabulous Montage Resort in Laguna Beach that at the time offered a french fry trio on their lunch menu. One of the options had tiny bits of black truffles. What to drink with french fries? Non-vintage Brut Champagne, with Pol Roger and Delamotte among my favorites. BTW – the Brits call fries chips. I’m sure Julie would approve, especially if paired with a fabulous Champagne.
I have two questionable food habits, at least in the eyes of a cardiologist. Well, maybe more than two. Regardless, one is chips. If I stop to think about it, the reason I finally threw in the towel and started to take a statin was because I was tired of feeling guilty every time I reached for a handful of chips. Mind you the same goes for cheeseburgers and other things that will shortly make an appearance on this list. But chips are right up there in fried status with fries. And they don’t have to be fancy. Lay’s Classic will do nicely. But chips can also be a blank canvas on which to add any number of different flavorings. Vinegar and salt, cheese of various kinds, and the ubiquitous BBQ. That aside, the Brits have perfected the art of crisps, as they call them.
Some years ago, I did a project with Frito-Lay International, suggesting varietal wines pairings with various flavors of their UK Walker’s brand crisps. Mind you, these weren’t the pedestrian flavors like those sold here in the U.S. Instead, more exotic offerings such as tandoori chicken and Thai-spice lime. Otherwise, I don’t want to neglect the corn chip universe. Fritos and Doritos are two personal favorites, especially the latter. I would also go as far as to say that Nacho Cheese flavoring is one of mankind’s greatest inventions. And if the chip bag were opened and passed at cocktail hour, I’d still opt for bubbly of some kind. Champagne once again fits the bill. This time a non-vintage rosé brut from Billecarte-Salmon or Laurent Perrier.
Though not technically fried, making popcorn requires some form of fat. One could do the microwave thing, though I find the faux butter flavor a bit much. Inhaling diacetyl (butter flavor) has never been a favorite experience. That said, making popcorn using olive oil and then sprinkling it with sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, and a drizzle of melted butter is a recipe for temporary happiness. As for beverages, bubbly things work best again as in blanc de blancs Champagne like non-vintage wines from Ruinart and Pierre Peters.
Fish and chips
And wrap them in newsprint, if you must. Paper aside, the mighty duo of breaded, fried cod filets and chips must surely have been handed down to Moses by god just after the
15 10 commandments. Because when you’re passing out the ultimate rules to life, you might as well include lunch. If done properly—meaning the oil is blazing hot—the combination of crispy crust and tender and flaky fish is a thing of perfection. And wait, fries are involved too. Does it get any better? Otherwise, something bubbly is needed. This time we’ll opt for the beer universe. While one might be tempted to reach for a British ale like Samuel Smith or Newcastle, I’m going for something a bit lighter like Pilsner Urquell or Bitburger. However, in the end, the specific beer mattereth not. It’s the bubbles and tart acidity that do their magic dance on the palate, cleansing and preparing it for the next bite.
As Samson is to Delilah, Romeo to Juliet, and Sodom to Gomorrah, so is the mighty cheeseburger to french fries. Well, at least in terms of two things that go together. In this case, it doesn’t involve tragic haircuts, star-crossed lovers who do themselves in, or two cities bent on bad behavior and eternal damnation. Be all that as it may, cheeseburgers could be the ultimate comfort food. That is to say frying a patty of fatty beef and serving on a griddled hamburger bun with any number of different condiments puts cheeseburgers at the top of the fried food pyramid, at the right hand of bacon. We’ll get to the latter in just a moment. What beverage goes with cheeseburgers? The answer is many. Various soft drinks do the job, even Diet Coke with its after-taste reminiscent of PVC. Beer also comes to mind and here one can go in any direction, from mass-produced commercial lagers like Coors or Budweiser to various IPA’s like Lagunitas and Dog Fish Head to the likes of Guinness Stout. If wine is desired, a big red like Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel or Langmeil Valley Floor Barossa Shiraz is perfect.
I’ve saved the best for last. First, the obvious. Bacon is the ne plus ultra of vitamin P – pork. If the FDA were ever to redo the food pyramid, bacon would rest atop with chocolate and Tater Tots just beneath. I’m also sure Julie would agree that a rasher of fried bacon is the closest thing to fried culinary perfection that exists. What wines work with bacon? The answer is basically yes. Rose Champagne from Ruinart and Pol Roger, German Spätlese Riesling from Robert Weil or Gunderloch, or even uber-pricey Grand Cru red Burgundy like Robert Arnoux’s Romanée Saint Vivant or Domaine Dujac’s Clos de la Roche.
In the end, let us take a moment of silence and feel a bit of gratitude for the savory wonder of all things fried. After Julie and I sing “Climb Every Mountain,” we’ll close things out with a rousing rendition of “So Long, Farewell.” And everything will be as it should.