Friday, January 24, 2014

Mastering fried potatoes

Even the best cookbook authors are forever telling us that fried potatoes need fussy treatment. After peeling and chopping, we are told, commence to soak the potatoes in salted water, or no don't, but yes do pat them completely dry, use this much butter or that much, add the potatoes to the hot fat a few at a time or all at once, turn the heat up or down, cook slowly until they are "blond," no, first cook them fast to brown them, turn and flip, cover the pan, don't cover the pan. Use this sort of potato, no, instead use that sort of potato. It would be ideal to find this sort of potato, but of course it's only available in Europe, probably Paris.

And the cookbooks never, but never, tell us the plain truth. To make good fried potatoes you need bucketloads of oil. That is all. The only cookbooks which come close to this sublime truth are those offering latke recipes for Chanukah, wherein the point of the food anyway is the oil. Fried potatoes do not brown because of any fussiness you've done to them, nor because they've turned blond first and then have crisped up via contact with the bottom of the pan, or been soaked or not soaked; they brown by the action of the hot oil bath washing all around them from the beginning. Like so:

I might have remembered this lesson from a previous experience, but in that case I was still struggling with finely grated hash browns, which seem to exude more water than any other treatment of potato has the effrontery to do, and of course it's the water content of potatoes that presents the frying problem that cookbooks ignore. Tonight I happened to be in too much of a hurry to bother grating potatoes, but I thought, why not try the Chanukah, bucketload-of-oil treatment with these, too?

And by golly, the oil bath washed around them, and they didn't stick to the pan, and they browned beautifully. That's all.

(They were very delicious with a little stew of chicken breast meat and aromatic vegetables. Any lovely white wine of your choice would also go well with them.)

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