Monday, February 19, 2007

Fry Sauce Recipe

Green Jell-O may be listed as Utah's official snack food but, if you think it's the only Utah food culture export, you’ve really missed the mark. Another Utah food culture claim to fame is the ever popular "fry sauce," a regional condiment served with, you guessed it, French fries.

The Arctic Circle fast food chain claims to have invented it back in 1948. They keep their secret recipe locked away in a safe.

Some people claim that fry sauce is really just Thousand Island dressing, renamed. Hey, it's got catsup and mayo in it, right? Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Thousand Island dressing has pickles and stuff in it. It’s chunky and weird. Fry sauce is smooth and yummy. Most of the time, anyway.

At one point Utah was the "fry sauce" state. You just couldn’t get it anywhere else. If you asked for fry sauce at most cafés and fast food joints outside Utah, the server would look quizzically at you and say, "Isn't that what catsup's for?" That's not the case, anymore. Years ago Arctic Circle expanded its fast food chain outside of Utah and now claims that they go through more of the stuff in Washington and Oregon than they do in Utah.

Arctic Circle isn't the only company to get in on the fry sauce craze, though. Carl's Jr., Hires Big H, Apollo Burger and The Training Table all offer their own variation on the popular pink stuff. Up until 1999 Utah’s McDonald's franchises offered it. They quit carrying it though, citing high spoilage rates because of the mayonnaise. If they couldn't keep it from spoiling, they must not have used much. It must have been pretty crappy fry sauce

Fry sauce has hit the grocery stores, too. One Utah entrepreneur decided to make his own version and sell it. Sure enough, "Some Dude's Fry Sauce" can be found on most grocery store shelves in Utah. I’m not kidding. That’s what he calls himself – "Some Dude." He even markets a few variations. You can get "zesty" or a "bbq" versions, if you want them. Not wanting to be left out of the profit loop, Arctic Circle and Hires Big H have started bottling their own concoctions and selling them on store shelves, as well.

The Basic Recipe

This is so simple it hurts: 1 part catsup to 2 parts mayonnaise. Some say it's half and half, but it's not quite the same that way.

As a foodie, I'm just not satisfied with the basics, though. I've gotta play with it a bit. I wanted to find the best fry sauce I could, while still maintaining the spirit of the original. To that end, I enlisted the help of my three daughters as victims ... erm ... taste testers! We grabbed a bunch of ingredients from the grocery store (if we didn't already have it in the refrigerator), and started experimenting.

We didn't use everything we could think of, and avoided most of the variations I'd heard of before. We didn't try barbeque sauce, for example. Mostly that's because we didn't have any in the fridge and I forgot to pick it up at the store. We also creating a data sheet. This was going to be a scientific study, so we needed to track the data for each round of experiments.

Next, we cooked up some French fries. I'm basically lazy so we just got some frozen ones at the store and cooked 'em up in the oven. Yes, I know. All of you French fry purists out there are whining, ”You should have deep fried them!” I don't care. This was about finding the best sauce, not the best fries. I wasn’t going to peel, cut up, and deep fry a bunch of potatoes just for this bit of nonsense.

We started experimenting with the basic recipe, in a couple of different ratios. We also swapped the catsup out for chili sauce in a few of them. (Yum!) I mixed them all up on old yoghurt cups (don't worry, they got washed first) and labeled the cups with letters - A through D. We ran out of clean cups and had to start using mugs. Some of our samples were labeled "Blue rimmed mug," "Snoopy mug,” “red cup” and “pink cup” and the winning "square bowl."

Once we settled on the best ratios, we started playing around with other ingredients. We added garlic powered (which everyone loved), Worcestershire sauce (which everyone hated), in various combinations and tried them out. I think we went through nearly the entire bag of frozen French fries testing each combination.

Our winning experiment, created after hours (okay, it was really about 45 minutes) of endless (four) trials, is as follows:

Super Newman (not Paul's) Fry Sauce recipe

1/4 cup Ranch dressing
1/4 cup chili sauce
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Dash of liquid smoke

Mix completely and serve with hot French fries.

It's probably good on hamburgers, too.

Now It’s Your Turn

There are a few variations you could try with your own fry sauce experiments. Try using barbeque sauce instead of catsup, add buttermilk to thin the mixture, add various seasoning salts, try adding some horseradish mustard, or whatever else you can think of.

It's not all been fun, though. After a long morning of eating fries and tasting fry sauce with my daughters (the fun part), I've sworn off French fries and fry sauce for the next month or so. I'm so sick of fry sauce I could scream.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Foodie vs. Gourmet

I think of myself as a “foodie,” but what the heck is a foodie, anyway? Some say it's a group of people with special interest and knowledge of food. Some think they travel the world and only dine in the best restaurants and then set themselves up as self-published critics. My take on the matter is a little different, but in order to explain it, I need to talk about what a gourmet is, first.

Gourmet is actually a corruption of the title of a French wine valet or possibly grommet, a boy servant. Under current usage a gourmet is someone who is knowledgeable about fine food and drink. In other words, a connoisseur of food. In the business of food it's used to describe foods and beverages that are particularly high in quality. Unfortunately, it also gets used in advertising to market foods that are of a particularly low quality to the point of becoming meaningless.

I'm not kidding. Next time to you go to the grocery store, hit the hot dog section and count how many different brands you can find that claim to be "gourmet hot dogs." How in God's green earth can you have a "gourmet hot dog?" Gourmet bratwurst maybe, but a gourmet hot dog? Please!

The word "gourmet" can also modify words like "restaurant" and "cooking." Again, this is all about finding high quality food. Sadly, it also includes foods that have an acquired taste. "Acquired taste" means that most people think it tastes awful and you have to get used to it. Often such food also comes with a high price tag because it's hard to get and there is little demand for it.

Sometimes, "gourmand" gets used in place of the word "gourmet" when referring to people who know and love food. Not many people like the term gourmand, though. It can have the same connotation that "glutton" does. "Epicure" gets thrown around in some circles, but it seems to imply excessive refinement. In other words, epicures are arrogant and self-important gourmets. Most of the time, this idea is accompanied by thoughts of talented chefs in expensive restaurants and strict dress codes.

Foodies are on the other end of the "gourmet spectrum." Like gourmets, foodies like good food and drink. If the good is good, they're willing to go out of the way to get it, and pay more money for it. Unlike epicures, they don't get self-righteous about it. For a foodie, a good burger (or hot dog) is just as worthy of attention as foie gras and caviar. In fact, finding the best hot dog stand in the city might be considered a great adventure for a foodie.

Hmm. Maybe foodies do have more in common with gourmands than gourmets.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Of Food and Utah Mormons . . .

I admit it. I like to eat, and I like to eat well. Some people might call me a gourmet, but I'm not that picky. A really good hamburger is just as thrilling for me as a really good soufflé. The trouble is, I live in Utah, and I'm a Mormon.

 In and of itself, that's not a problem. There actually are a few good places to eat here. Many are great little family-run places, just like that diner in Nephi, just off the freeway, that I can never remember the name of. There are some really good restaurants in Salt Lake City, Park City, and other places, too. You just have to look harder. It used to be that you had to look really hard, but that's changed a bit, thank goodness.

No, the problem is in being a Mormon foodie, or, more properly, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who loves to eat. That's not uncommon, by the way. Lots of Mormons like to eat. The problem occurs when you decide to make the move from simple glutton to wannabe gourmet.

LDS folks have some dietary laws called "The Word of Wisdom" they have to follow. Kind of like the Jews do, only different. We can eat pork and shellfish and stuff like that, we just can't drink coffee, tea, wine or other alcoholic drinks. In other words - no brews, no booze. That cuts out about half of what foodies talk about.

We're also discouraged against drinking caffeinated beverages, although there's a raging debate over whether it's a "commandment" or not. Personally I'm erring on the side of imbibing. God knows I've been trying to cut down on my intake of soda and energy drinks. God also knows what a weak willed and sensual person I am. Thank goodness for repentance.

Mormons are supposed to cut down on the amount of meat we eat, too. Most Mormons in Utah don't take that part of the Word of Wisdom very seriously. Maybe we should.

The second problem is the Utah culture. That's not LDS culture, mind you. Utah culture. Some people don't understand that distinction, and sometimes that's problem. I've been told Utah's food culture is actually pretty similar to some parts of Minnesota, mostly those with large Lutheran populations. How can you be a real foodie if the culture reveres green gelatin with canned fruit suspended in it as a dessert? The only thing I can think of that's more prolific here than Jello is ice cream and funeral potatoes. My wife calls them "yummy potatoes.” They are yummy, too. At least mine are. Other people's funeral potatoes can be hit or miss, I'm afraid.

But I digress. If you've followed me this far, you'll realize that what this blog is all about is food, from a Utah Mormon perspective. Even if you're not LDS (and if you're not, would you like to be? I know some very nice young men in suits that would love to talk to you), I hope you'll find all this to be useful in your quest for the perfect palette experience, or at least getting close by cooking at home.

Frankly, I'll be happy if you just get a laugh out of it.