Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ode to a Potato

It is a relatively rare occurrence for me (lo, the entire family) to get so excited about a new recipe that I end up making the same dish multiple times in one week. I mean, sure, there has been the occasional dessert recipe that has knocked our socks off and been cooked back-to-back, but that hardly counts.

I try a lot of new recipes, and we have long since grown accustomed to the nightly meal evaluation in which we pick apart what we’ve eaten and decide whether or not to add a new dish to our repertoire. So of course there are evenings around the dinner table when we all smack our lips with delight and declare a meal delicious and lick our plates clean, but these times are tempered by the other suppers that make us shrug with boredom. Even with the recipes that we fall madly in love with, the most those winners can hope for is that I will cook them again in a few weeks or so. With so many new recipes waiting in a stack on my menu desk, and with a binder bulging with tried-and-true recipes, and two bookcases groaning under the weight of too many cookbooks, we can go weeks without duplicating a recipe.

Of course, it is summer now, and the vast majority of our produce comes from the CSA we subscribe to (supplemented by my mother's and grandmother’s gardens), so the ingredients I’m cooking with are fairly constant. Like the summer squash, obviously, and kale for the fifth time in as many weeks, just to name a few of the standards. Needless to say, I have scoured my cooking resources for variations on these themes.

Oh, but then there is the magical potato. As much as I love a good beet, and as excited as I get to eat just-picked fruits, very few things can make my heart flutter like a potato. Good old boring potatoes. You know you feel the same way. Even if you’re the type to shun a real potato, I bet you can eat a French fry or a potato chip with the best of them, right?

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I too love those bastions of ill-health. While I’d rather starve than eat a typical convenience store potato chip, I’ll knock you (and your mother) over to get to a bag of Mrs. Vickie's. And then there’s the French fry. I do love a good French fry. I have a recipe that we use fairly regularly for baked fries, but if I’m totally honest with myself, I have to admit that nothing compares to a deep-fried French fry. There is just no way around it. Baked is to adequate as deep-fried is to delicious.

Normally I’m not one to deny myself a guilty pleasure. I might not tell anyone about it – that is why they call it ‘guilty,’ after all – but if a girl needs a French fry, a girl needs a French fry, right? The problem is that I made a fatal mistake in my reading recently, and I read Fast Food Nation nearly back-to-back with Don't Eat This Book. I haven’t been able to bring myself to eat a fast food fry since.

But enough of the moralistic stuff. It is the potato itself that is my object of affection, and I’ll take a potato any which way. I like them baked, I like them roasted, I like them grilled. I will eat them on a train. I will eat them in the rain. I love potatoes. Yukon golds are beautiful and baby reds are sublime. In a pinch though, I wouldn’t even dream of turning my nose up at a good, old-fashioned Idaho clunker.

A while back, I ran across an intriguing recipe in Fine Cooking for Crispy Potatoes. They sounded scrumptious, and I cut the recipe out and then promptly lost it in the towering stack on the menu desk in my kitchen. I would run it across it sporadically, but frankly, the recipe looked a little fussy, and I rarely feel like knocking myself out on a side dish. Time constraints, teething babies, hungry husbands, houseguests and preschoolers – well, the list of reasons to not bother was endless. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that recipe.

Then, a few weeks back, Pioneer Woman, in one of her hilarious and highly-entertaining step-by-step photo recipes, made a version of the Crispy Potato that she called Crash Hot Potatoes. And she made it look easy. My interest was more than a little piqued. So I rummaged and made a big mess and pushed a lot of paper around and finally got my hands on that Fine Cooking recipe again. The recipes were strikingly similar, except that Pioneer Woman didn’t bother with the fussy steps that had been repelling me. So I did what I often do: I took the two recipes to the counter next to my stove and I just decided to go for it.

Oh. My. Stars. I am SO glad I went for it. I must warn you that this recipe is highly addictive. I made it two nights in a row. And then I made it again. And again. I think we’ve had these four or five times in the past two weeks now. We all love them, even the vegetable-averse houseguest. See, the potatoes are boiled until tender, and then you lay them out on a baking sheet and flatten them. Then, and this is my favorite part, you smother them in olive oil and salt. What could be wrong with that, right? Then, oh maybe THIS is favorite part, you put them in a hot oven until they – dig THIS – get brown and crispy on the outside.

They’re really as easy as can be. Total time is about an hour and a quarter, and that alone can be daunting, but truly, the hands-on part is only about 10 minutes. My-oh-my, they are worth the wait of the cooking time. The end result is somewhat of a cross between a potato chip and a French fry. Honest.

I think I might have to make them again tonight. Just thinking about these babies is making my heart go all pitter-patter.


CRISPY FLATTENED POTATOES (adapted from Fine Cooking and Pioneer Woman, serves 4 as a side dish)
  • 1 1/2 lb small red potatoes, golf-ball sized or smaller work best
  • Kosher salt
  • Olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • Italian seasoning dried herb blend (McCormick's makes one that I like that has thyme and rosemary in it)
  1. Put the potatoes in a large pot, and add water until water rises at least an inch above the potatoes. Add 2 tsp kosher salt to the water, and bring water to a boil. Boil the potatoes for about 30 minutes, or until fork tender.
  2. Drain the potatoes.
  3. Grease a large, rimmed baking sheet with a good amount of olive oil. There should be enough so that the oil sloshes just a wee bit when the pan is tilted.
  4. Put the potatoes on the baking sheet, a few inches apart.
  5. With a potato masher, press down on each potato individually to flatten. You don't want pancakes here, you just want a messy, smashed-up-looking potato. The skin will break and be the best part of the potato, so try not to lose any of it in the tines of the masher. Perfection is not the goal.
  6. Drizzle a fair amount of olive oil over each potato. Then, to make sure every glorious inch is covered, use a pastry brush to further oil up the tops of those taters. As a general rule, I use about 1 tsp of oil for each potato (more if the potatoes are larger).
  7. Sprinkle salt over each potato (be very generous with the salt - this is not the time to be shy). I use a pinch per potato.
  8. Depending on your taste, sprinkle just a little finely ground black pepper, and Italian seasoning (or whatever dried herb you prefer) on top of each potato.
  9. Roast the potatoes in a convection oven at 400 degrees (or a regular oven at 450 degrees) for about 30 minutes, until brown and crispy on top. Convection ovens will yield crispier results.


yolie said...


Mijk said...

we will eat that this week~!!

Momof3 said...

I may have to give these a try!

Samara said...

OK, yum. I was wondering what to do with all those little bitty potatoes from the greenmarket.

Dee said...

We tried these recently, too, and loved them! We put garlic salt with parsley on them before broiling.

Mijk said...

Ok potatoes prepped (the babysitter comes for dinner and one should always spoil the babysitter..). I am at the moment totally at loss for the oven temperature.... I am pretty sure 400 celcius will burn them ;)

Sarah Beam said...

Mijk - oh, dear, yes I used Fahrenheit in my oven temperature directions. I agree that one should always spoil the babysitter, and one should make sure not to burn the potatoes. I Googled this (because science has never been my strong point) and I came up with a Celcius oven temperature of 204 degrees. According to the website I found, you take the Fahrenheit temperature and subtract 32 from that. Then you take that amount and multiply it by 5, and then divide it by 9. Math, you see, is my strong point.

I hope I'm right here. Please let me know.

Momof3 said...

MMM, made these with dinner tonight. Is it totally wrong that I wanted to keep them all for myself?!

Going to post a link on my blog, this recipe has to be shared!

Sarah Beam said...

Mom of 3, THAT is what I'm screaming. The first time I made them, The Carnivore worked really late and missed dinner. When I was fixing him a plate to warm up when he got home, I considered eating the last of the potatoes myself and just telling him that I had burned dinner. It took all my willpower, but I saved him two of them. Out of ten. I don't know what happened to the other eight...

Suzanne said...

I made these tonight, a little dubious...squashed potatoes? And I'm wholeheartedly in love. I used herbes de Provence as I don't have any Italian seasoning around, but that works too.

Holly said...

hey sarah :). hope everything is going well with you. i purposely bought some tiny potatoes to make this recipe. any suggestions on what to serve along with them? i'm kind of stumped for ideas.