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The Not Quite Six Fry Solution

December 7, 2018

Yesterday’s birthday was a lot of fun. I made myself a special brunch, took advantage of a free birthday deal, and went out to a new favorite place for dinner with the family.

While there is no age limit on the free giant birthday beer promotions around town, there may be a maturity cap. But I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to try one of the ridiculous coffee drinks from Starbucks for free on my birthday. Especially since I got the reminder by email in the early afternoon, just as I was starting to lose a bit of focus.

Part of me wanted to try the new juniper latte, because that’s something I would never order. But the other part of me thought I should get a drink that I would be most likely to enjoy. I went with something called a Cordusio which isn’t quite so ridiculous on its face. However, a venti has six shots of espresso and would cost more than $7. So naturally, that’s what I ordered.

But what I really want to talk about today are my birthday potatoes.

The context for this, of course, is the firestorm sweeping over social media from professor Eric Rimm. He was guy from the Harvard School of Public Health who was quoted in the New York Times story on french fries. In case you missed it, this is what he said.

“I think it would be nice if your meal came with a side salad and six French fries.”

Christopher Mele’s story in the Times is ridiculous on a lot of levels. He also quoted dietician Elaine Magee who said that home fries were a healthier option because “They tend to still have their skin on as chunked or wedged potatoes, and they aren’t deep fried but tend to be fried in a skillet, usually in oil,”

So yesterday I had both home fries and french fries. The home fries, I actually made at home. And they weren’t fried in oil, but rather rendered beef fat. I suppose technically I made a hash, because I tossed in onions and some diced leftover pot roast. The bowl was topped with two poached eggs, hot sauce, and a little bit of sour cream.

Yes, those yukon gold potatoes had their skins on, but they absorbed pretty much all of the fat that I put in the pan. Man, those were delicious.

For dinner, I took the family to Lost & Found, where I finally got to try the carbonara fries. These are french fries covered with a parmesan sauce, house made bacon bits, and a fried egg. We got this side order as an appetizer to split four ways, in part because it was Chanukah and fried potatoes are the order of the day. Although it was also because I’ve long wanted to try this decadent treat, but I’m usually at the chef’s counter by myself, and I knew it would be just too much for one person.

Holy cow. Those fries are fantastic!

I’m going to say right off the bat that I question a nutritionist who claims that my home fries are a healthier option than french fries. I vaguely recall a Jeffrey Steingarten essay on deep frying where he measured the oil going into the fryer and what was remaining once the cooking was completed. And his discovery was that foods subjected to higher heat frying absorb precious little oil.

Is that a scientifically valid point? Probably not. And I’ll readily admit that I totally get professor Rimm’s argument. Because even after splitting chef Ian’s carbonara fries four ways, I was so full that it was a struggle to eat one chicken leg and an eighth of a charred winter squash.

Even though we ordered what I thought was a very modest quantity of food for four people, I was still left with a doggy bag of food we simply couldn’t finish.

That said, six fries isn’t the answer.

Heather Schwedel wrote a piece on Slate about trying the six fry solution, and it wasn’t without its challenges. But if you read The New York Times story closely, buried within is the key fact that, “The Agriculture Department lists a serving of fries as three ounces, which amounts to 12 to 15 individual potato sticks, or about 140 calories.”

The biggest problem that Ms. Schwedel discovered is that the world is not built for smaller orders of fries. And she tried. Although I might add that counting out ones fries feels entirely too restrictive for a food that should be all about pleasure.

What seems to be forgotten is that there is already a good option from an unlikely source.

McDonalds has a kids size fry. Now, I haven’t tried to order it on its own, but they can be included in a happy meal. What’s remarkable about the kids size order of fries is that they come in an even smaller paper container. I actually find it adorable.

But here’s the important part. The kids fries are just 110 calories. As far as I’m concerned that’s a workable compromise between professor Rimm’s draconian suggestion and the federal government’s more lenient serving size. It’s enough to get the joy and pleasure from fries, without totally sabotaging your meal.

Because here’s the bottom line. I do love fries. But almost without fail, when I order them I always feel over full, even when I’ve shared the Five Guys smallest fries with the entire family. So count me in as another voice calling for smaller portions of french fries. Although my desire is not to eat them less, it’s to eat fewer fries more often.

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