This post originally appeared in the May 6, 2019 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
When going out to eat, there are a few questions diners are used to hearing: fried or scrambled? Spicy or mild? Rare or well done? Chicken salt or plain salt? If that last one was confusing to you, you’re probably not Australian. Because at any self-respecting fish and chips or chicken shop (there’s basically one on every corner) in the sunburnt country, you’re going to be asked this question. And if you reply “plain,” well, then, you’re wrong.
While Americans like to smother their fries in ketchup or that bright-orange tangy slop they call mustard, we Australians know that the only way to fry ecstasy is through the life-changing condiment of chicken salt, a umami flavoring with onion and garlic and a little bit of paprika or turmeric. Despite the name, there’s usually no chicken in it (yes, vegans, you can eat it). If you licked your finger and dipped it in a little pot of chicken salt, you’d appreciate the flavor on its own. But it’s the combination of that savory, garlicky, oniony, highlighter-yellow powder atop a shatteringly crisp, steaming hot fat fry that really brings the flavor out of the potato. A fry on its own is sad. With ketchup or mustard, it’s drowning. But sprinkle on a little chicken salt, and a fry’s flavor is not only enhanced, but perfected: My move is to always sprinkle chicken salt on fast-food fries.
For me, the desire for chicken salt on fries is fueled, in part, by nostalgia. Chicken salt is a day at the beach, when you’re exhausted by the sun and splashing about in the ocean and you need to get some hot chips from the corner store to refuel. It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, when the school bell has rung and it’s time to go get a feed with your mates. It’s the Sunday evening when Mum and Dad can’t be bothered cooking and instead run to the nearest corner store for a rotisserie chicken and chips.
But practically speaking, chicken salt can take any fry from bland, soggy potato to heavenly bite. Luckily, there are so many Australians living in the U.S. now that the condiment is readily available to order online. Once you have it, carry it with you like you would your phone. Next time you’re fiending for some fries, grab yourself some Shake Shack (the waffle fries are the crispiest, IMO), sprinkle it generously, and join the chicken salt enlightenment. (And don’t stop there — put it on your chicken! On your tacos! Even on your popcorn!) But at the very least, give your fries the flavor they deserve.
P.S. Want to make your own chicken-salted fries at home? Check out Eater’s head-to-head deep fryer and air fryer comparison to see which one comes out on top.