Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Food to Forget: My perfect skillet potatoes

This was actually written two days ago, but I couldn't get the pictures off my phone. It was easier to plug pictures into an old post than to write something new today. (Tuesday is my busy day.)

Recently, someone to whom I served breakfast commented that I make perfect potatoes. How do I do it?

"The secret is thyme," I said mysteriously.

"Yeah, I think my problem is that I am too impatient."

"No, I meant thyme the herb. Ha ha ha! But the secret is that kind of time, too."

The way I make these potatoes perfect is to forget about them. For real!

What makes these potatoes perfect? They stay soft on the inside, but develop a crisp crust on the outside, yet magically do not stick to the pan. This actually took some practice.

Sunday, I was out of potatoes and wanted something healthier, so I decided, for the sake of this blog, to try the beans I was going to eat prepared in the style of my skillet potatoes. In these pictures, pretend the beans you are seeing are really wedges of potato. I'm happy to say that the technique, when applied to beans, worked! I had crispy-yet-soft-on-the-inside beans. Delicious!

Step 1. This is one dish in which an enameled cast iron skillet is inferior to the original. The enamel is too non-stick and the crispy crust will not form. So, first get out a cast iron skillet. Heat it to "2" on the stove, and add olive oil and butter. (This is not a recipe, since I'm not including amounts.) I'm not sure if olive oil and butter is essential, but I'm afraid to change my process and spoil perfection!

Add garlic, however you want it. Chopped, sliced, or minced is fine. I like peeling it and mashing it with the flat part of a knife.

Add herbs. This is optional, but one time I made hash browns with Herbes de Provence and smoked paprika and the roommate who ate them said, "These are the best hash browns I've ever tasted in my entire life." So I stick with that blend. I ran out of Herbes de Provence a long time ago, so I use a pinch of dried thyme, a pinch of dried rosemary, and a pinch of dried lavender. I call this, "Herbes de Faux-vence." You should use whatever seasonings you want in your skillet potatoes/beans/starch of choice.

Next I add chopped onions, but that is optional, too. I stir them a little and cook them until just translucent.

Step 2. The potatoes can be washed and chopped while everything else is heating up or starting to cook. I find that one potato per person eating tends to be enough, but this reheats well and is also good cold. Cut them into slices or wedges, whichever you prefer and whichever size you prefer. The size will affect the cooking time; very large pieces might take a ridiculously long time to cook. I usually aim for pieces the size of the first joint of my thumb. I'd like to try this with grated potatoes someday.

These beans and greens are obviously not potatoes.

Let this cook a little with the lid off and the heat on 2. When you feel ready, put a lid on the skillet and lower the heat to 3.

Step 3. Forget about that skillet! While you walk out of the kitchen, allow another task to distract you, and forget you ever started to make these potatoes, let me explain to you the numbers I am using in reference to my stove. I'm sure you think, "Why is changing the heat from 2 to 3 considered lowering?"

The stove in my new place is retro. It is clearly ancient, yet it works. It looks cool, too, so I'm really not complaining. The dials you see are for the oven part. The buttons are for the burners. They correspond to burners in a way unlike any stove I've ever used, and that is how I almost set a carton of eggs on fire at the beginning of the month. Anyway, those little buttons, from hottest to coldest, say, "HI," "2," "3," "LO," and "WM." There's no in between option - no way to hit both buttons at once for "3-LO" or "HI-2." I'm sure stove snobs, especially gas stove snobs, would shudder at this, but it's been working just fine.

Every once in awhile, the delightful smell of garlic will waft toward you, and you'll remember that you are making breakfast. Go lift the lid and give the potatoes a stir. Do they look done yet? Can you smush a potato wedge with the thin edge of a wooden spoon, or is the potato still underdone in the middle? Depending on the answer to this question, you may serve your potatoes or you may put the lid back and walk away again. Better eat one, just to make sure.

When the potatoes are done, add salt if you didn't before. I like adding salt at this point, but if you were in a hurry and did it already, that's okay. You can put the lid back and turn the heat to "WM" or even off while you make the rest of breakfast, set the table, or get called out of the room to answer the phone. The potatoes will be fine.

I'm happy to report that this worked well with beans and greens, too!

1 comment:

kalin said...

You've mentioned spicy pickled carrots on here haven't you? I want the recipe for those!