WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10, 2009
THE BEST ROASTED POTATOES EVER. EVER.
I always want?crispy. Whatever it is, it better be crispy, or be topped with something that is. And potatoes are no exception. Though a nice cold potato salad on a hot day has its place, I tend to crave spuds with a crackly, caramelized exterior, loaded with coarse sea salt (for extra crunch, you see). Yet there is an important caveat to this preference: the crispy exterior must be contrasted with the perfect ratio of soft, pillowy interior. Unless you are deep-frying, which frankly, I prefer not to do at home, these complementary characteristics are seemingly impossible to achieve. But I don’t take?No?for an answer – even if it is coming from my own alter ego (a persona Mike likes to call Gloomy Gus). So I took the only reasonable action.I purchased a couple pounds of baby new potatoes – my final spring-time treat, as summer produce has started rolling in. Then I began testing. I refuse to reveal how many of those little round starch-bombs I consumed during the process. I justified the carbo-loading with excuses like “Occupational hazard, I suppose. Oh well,” and “Gotta get ready for this weekend’s 17-hour flight!”?Did I mention I’m moving to Copenhagen for a couple of months?What I found during these savory kitchen assays was not so surprising, though I made sure to thoroughly test all samples, in the name of accuracy of course. There is no doubt that boiled equals boring. I adore the French method of braising whole?pomme de terre?in duck fat or butter until tender, but find the fat’s flavor barely makes it past the skin. Quartering raw potatoes and throwing them into a high-heat oven produces a dry spud; ditto to grilling (yet crispy nonetheless). So is deep-frying the only path to Tasty Tater Nirvana?
No. Check out the recipe below to discover the magnificent method that leads to the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever had.
ROASTED SMASHED POTATOES?WITH LEMON & PIMENT D’ESPELETTE
2 pounds baby new potatoes, scrubbed if necessary
Approximately ¼ cup olive oil or duck fat
Piment d’Espelette (see Notes below)
4 lemon wedges, seeded
Sea salt to taste
Piment d’Espelette AOC is a precious pepper cultivated primarily in the Basque region. It has a slightly sweet, yet piquant flavor that I absolutely adore. I use it on everything from eggs and potatoes, roasted vegetables, grilled pork, and have even added a pinch to my favorite brownies recipe. You can find it crushed in specialty food stores or online at?Amazon?andZingerman’s.
Place baby new potatoes in a large pot; cover with cold water (you start the whole potatoes in cold water so that they cook evenly – from the center out); bring to boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow potatoes to cook for approximately 20 minutes, or until a paring knife inserted meets only slight resistance (at this point, you don’t want the potatoes to be completely soft or they will fall apart when you “smash” them). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
Drain potatoes and allow them to cool to room temperature; set the pot aside and reserve for another use. Take a cooled potato and place it on a flat surface like a cutting board; lightly smash the potato with your fist (see photo). You want the potato to flatten slightly but still maintain its integrity. Place smashed potato back in the large pot. Continue the process until all of the potatoes are smashed. Add the olive oil or duck fat to the pot along with a generous pinch of sea salt; toss potatoes to coat. Divide the potatoes between the two sheet pans; make sure not to overcrowd them or they will steam rather than roast and brown. Place the sheet pans in the oven and roast for 30 minutes; turn potatoes and roast for 15 minutes more, or until both sides are brown and crispy.
Remove potatoes from the oven and toss with another pinch of sea salt (I use a coarse variety such as Maldon for finishing) and a pinch of Piment d’Espelette. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.