Aug 272013
 

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On this date in 1928 the Kellogg–Briand Pact (or Pact of Paris, officially General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy) was signed by France, the United States, and 13 other nations.  It was the brainchild of French foreign minister Aristide Briand, but codified and expanded by United States Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg. It was a most laudable effort in the aftermath of the First World War (known as “The Great War” at that time), to appeal to nations to resolve differences without resort to war.  I wholeheartedly applaud the effort, and have no difficulty celebrating the day, even though the effort was a complete failure.  I should note that the pact has never been repealed in the U.S. so, in some technical sense, it is still in force.

The guts of the Kellogg–Briand Pact are contained in the first two articles:

ARTICLE I
The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.

ARTICLE II
The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.

Kellogg was awarded the 1929 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to provide what he hoped would be a permanent end to war as an “instrument of national policy.” Well, you get an A for effort Frank. (Briand had already shared the Nobel Prize in 1926 for previous peace efforts)

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The map below charts the worldwide signatories to the pact. Dark green represents the original signatories, light green represents subsequent signatories, and light blue represents dependent colonies of nations who signed, and were, therefore, legally bound as well.  I am interested to note that almost all of Latin America is conspicuous in its failure to sign on, mainly because Latin American nations were neutral during the First World War (following the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907). Only Brazil was directly involved and not until 1917.

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French Minister of Foreign Affairs Aristide Briand’s initial proposal was for a peace pact as a bilateral agreement between the United States and France to outlaw war between them. Particularly hard hit by the First World War, France faced continuing insecurity from Germany and sought alliances to shore up its defenses. Briand published an open letter in April of 1927 containing the proposal. Though the suggestion had the enthusiastic support of some members of the U.S. peace movement, President Calvin Coolidge and Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg were less eager than Briand to enter into a bilateral arrangement. They worried that the agreement against war could be interpreted as a bilateral alliance and require the United States to intervene if France was ever threatened (which it was). To avoid this, Kellogg suggested that the two nations take the lead in inviting all nations to join them in outlawing war.  So, although Briand initiated the idea of a peace pact, it was Kellogg who broadened it to its global basis.

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The original signatories were France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy, and Japan. The U.S. Senate ratified the agreement by a vote of 85–1, though it did so only after making reservations to note that U.S. participation did not limit its right to self-defense or require it to act against signatories breaking the agreement – pretty much a “get out of jail free” card.

In reality the pact had zero impact on the signatories.  Makes one wonder why they bothered.  The following cartoon is perhaps a little obscure nowadays even with the handwritten legend “Innocents Abroad.” The intent is pretty clear, though.  Europe saw the U.S. as being naïvely paternalistic in its efforts in this regard.  Europe plays the dutiful child saying “yes, daddy” and then goes and does what it pleases.  It was naïve to expect such a pact to achieve anything, but I believe it was sincere.

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The first major test of the pact came just a few years later in 1931, when the Mukden Incident led to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Though Japan had signed the pact, the combination of the worldwide depression and a limited desire to go to war to preserve China prevented the League of Nations or the United States from taking any action to enforce it. Further threats to the pact also came from fellow signatories Germany, Austria, and Italy. It soon became clear that there was no way to enforce the pact or sanction those who broke it; it also never fully defined what constituted “self-defense,” so there were many ways around its terms (including the avoidance of formal declarations of war). In the end, the Kellogg-Briand Pact did nothing to prevent World War II or any of the conflicts that followed. Its legacy remains as a statement of the idealism expressed by advocates for peace in the interwar period. Let us hope for a return to that idealism SOON.

I thought that French fries  would be a good choice for a recipe to celebrate a pact that came out of U.S./France negotiations.  I’m going to go two ways with this.  First I am going to give you my recipe (and notes) for perfect fries. Second, I am going to list a number of ways that French fries are served around the world (whatever they call them — let’s not fight!).

© Tío Juan’s Perfect French Fries

Starting notes:

Type of potato. Russet or Idaho potatoes are the classics in the U.S. They are in the category of mealy potatoes sometimes called floury potatoes.  You need to use the one available where you live.  King Edward used to be the classic in the U.K. Maris Peer and Maris Piper are newer varieties that work well. In other countries use a potato classified as a baking potato. Do not use waxy potatoes.

Peeling.  For a long time I never peeled potatoes at all, no matter what the dish.  I would simply scrub them well on the outside and then cut them, skins on, for whatever I needed them for.  Unpeeled French fries have a tasty, crispy skin side that has a slight earthiness to it.  These go well with rustic dishes.  Peeled French fries are a bit more refined, but also cleaner in taste.

Cutting. Style of cutting depends on personal preferences plus the nature of the dish the fries are to be served with. The general issue has to do with the ratio of crisp outer layer to tender insides.  Here I think it is cook’s choice plus some common sense.  Shoestring fries are ultra-thin, so they are crispy with almost no insides.  They are perhaps best as a snack or garnish.  “Regular” fries, the size you get in fast food joints, are multi-purpose, but best served with other fried foods. Wedges and steak fries, are big and hearty with lots of floury center.  They go well with robustly sauced dishes where you might otherwise use boiled or baked potatoes.

Fat.  What fat you choose depends to a large degree on how often you eat fried foods. I rarely do (maybe three or four times per year) so I have no problem making French fries with the most hideously artery clogging fats there are.  If you are more of a glutton for fried foods, you might want to go with healthier choices. Although it is a relatively modern trend, duck fat is unrivalled, producing crispy delicious fries.  Lard was the usual fat for British chippies when I used to eat in them in the 60’s, and is my fat of choice when I cannot get anything else.  If I cook a goose at Christmas I will use the plenteous fat from the baking dish for deep frying.   Otherwise, use oils that are low in saturated fats and trans-fat. Your best choices in this regard are safflower oil and canola oil.

Draining. This is a big issue for me.  Just about every recipe I ever read calls for draining cooked fries (and other deep fried foods) on paper towels. WRONG! If the food sits on paper towels the paper absorbs the fat but the fries then sit in the fat. Always drain fried food on a wire rack with a pan lined with paper towels underneath. If you like you can pat the fries with paper towels to remove excess, but that it is all.

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs potatoes (your choice)
cooking fat/oil (your choice)

Instructions:

Peel the potatoes or not as you choose. Cut the potatoes to the shape and size of your choice.  Put them in a colander or large sieve and rinse them under cold running water until the water runs clear. Put the potatoes in a bowl and cover them with cold water.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

You can use the fryer of your choice. You MUST have a way to accurately measure the temperature of the fat.

Preheat the fat/oil to 325°F/160°C

Drain the potatoes and dry them with a kitchen towel or paper towels.

Fry the potatoes in batches.  If you cook too many at a time the temperature of the fryer will drop too much.  Fry each batch for around 8 minutes, until the potatoes are limp and begin to turn color, about 6 minutes.  Drain on a wire rack (see notes). Cool to room temperature.

Reheat the oil/fat to 350°F/175°C. Fry the blanched potatoes in batches again until golden. This should not take more than 2 minutes.  Drain on a wire rack again, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Choice of toppings or condiments.

These are generalizations, more to give you the idea than hard and fast rules as to how people in a few different countries season their fries. Dip them in whatever you want, or douse them in anything tasty.

U.S.A. Tomato ketchup reigns supreme, of course, but don’t forget chili cheese fries – a healthy dose of chili (no beans) and grated cheese.

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U.K. Of course British chips are not really French fries at all. The ones I am familiar with from fish and chip shops tend to be fat and rather limp – delicious, though.  The classic flavorings are malt vinegar and salt. If you let them put the salt on for you, you may well have a stroke.  In the Midlands of England it is common to eat chips with mushy peas (which are what the name suggests). It’s also common to get chips with curry sauce at both Chinese and Indian takeaways, although the style of curry is quite different at each.

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Argentina. Tomato ketchup is common, but we also use salsa golf, which is a mix of ketchup and mayonnaise, sometimes with a touch of oregano.  You can also use chimichurri, a blend of chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, and white or red wine vinegar.

Belgium and Holland. Mayonnaise is usual, but it is a richer, creamier mayonnaise than you get elsewhere.  Belgians also serve meat stews directly over French fries (see post 21 July).  Belgians claim they invented the French fry, which may or may not be true. The historical evidence is not very clear. Whatever the case, Belgians enjoy deep fried potatoes with a variety of meals, including formal ones.

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Romania. In Romania, you can dip French fries in mujdei, a spicy sauce made with minced garlic cloves, salt, oil, vinegar, and a little bit of water. It’s rather liquid.

Canada. In Canada you can get poutine in quick food joints: fries smothered in beef gravy and topped with crumbled cheese curds.

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Philippines. Banana ketchup is a common condiment.  It’s sweeter than tomato ketchup, and a little spicier.  Throughout SE Asia sweeter, spicier sauces are common.

Japan. There are spice mixes in Japan that are used as seasonings for plain rice that are used for fries also.  A blend of nori flakes with the shichimi togarashi (red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed) is common.

With fries there are no rules.  Any sauce works. Mayonnaise can be juiced up a hundred ways: curry powder, fines herbes, garlic . . . Or go with bearnaise sauce, tartar sauce, tzatziki, feta cheese, barbecue sauce, chicken gravy, brown sauce, lemon juice, piccalilli, pickled cucumber, gherkins, pickled onions (a fav of mine), fresh cheese curds of any variety. Mix and match. Try not to be dull in this life.

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