Thursday, October 25, 2007

Crispy Oven-roasted Potatoes

"What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."
A. A. Milne (1882-1956)

Everyone has a few odd food preferences, myself included. My mom introduced me to the joys of bread with chocolate, something that usually gets me funny looks in the States, though I don't know anyone who would turn down a buttery chocolate croissant. We always keep plain yogurt in the 'fridge, so that I can snack on yogurt swirled with a dollop or two of preserves... or grape jelly. This revelation always gets me a skeptical expression, but really, both are fabulous combinations!

I also love potatoes in every possible form (I wonder if this is my Slavic heritage coming through), which means that I absolutely and completely adore- and yes, I freely admit this- tater tots. I've been known to keep a five-pound bag of them at all times in the freezer. They have to be super crispy, though, so I bake them a bit longer than directed. Fellow potato lovers understand this, but it's another thing that, without fail, draws funny looks from people who might not share my adoration for the Solanum tuberosum. L used to make fun of me for this, but then he actually tried a tater tot, and lately he's been known to sneak a few off my plate.

The potato has a fascinating history. The Incas cultivated them for sustenance and medicinal purposes, which included placing slices of potato on injuries such as broken bones to assist the healing process. Until much later, Europeans considered potatoes poisonous to humans and suitable only for hog feed, when instead, like many other members of the Solanaceae/Nightshade family, it's the the leaves and stems that are deadly. The sly, ingenious antics of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier successfully introduced the potato to the French, and eventually ensured that not all of France starved to death during multiple country-wide famines. On the other hand, his fellow Frenchmen Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and Denis Diderot both wrote that the potato had only one purpose- as a safeguard against famine in desperate times.

In any case, tater tots aren't exactly something that I serve to company, so I also rely on an easy, satisfying recipe that my mom makes often: crispy roasted potatoes. I've read recipes that have you parboil the potatoes or go through some other extra, fiddly step(s), but I don't find that any of those things are necessary. Just make sure that potato quarters are similarly-sized and keep an eye on them during cooking to prevent burning, and you will end up with a fabulous combination of tender potato and crispy outer crust.

These are particularly lovely as part of a brunch spread, as well as with saucy meat dishes like braises and stews... or if you're like me, you don't need a reason to make them!

Crispy Oven-roasted Potatoes
serves 4-6 as a side dish

If you are lucky enough to have a few tablespoons of duck or goose fat, gently warm until it melts into a liquid, substitute that for the olive oil, and these will turn out even better.

3 pounds small potatoes, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons minced fresh herb of your choosing (rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon)
1-2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

Preheat oven to 425'F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat.

Toss potatoes with olive oil and tip onto baking sheet. Sprinkle with minced herb and salt. Bake, tossing occasionally, until exteriors are crispy and interiors are soft when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes.

Taste and correct for salt while piping hot. Serve immediately.


Anonymous said...

This Recipe was a life saver I was making dinner for my girlfriend(I planned on proposing that night) and i had no idea what to make her and this must have been majical because when I asked her to be my wife she said yes!!!

la petite gourmande said...

How wonderful! Congratulations to you both!!!

Anonymous said...

Your recipe lives on. Here it is Feb 2011, and it's been raining all day here in San Francisco. I grilled Costco steaks, quick boiled french green beans and made your very forgiving recipe. My son and I ate dinner caveman style, with our fingers. We devoured all 3.5 lbs of taters, creamy on the inside and crispy on the out.


PS - For the first time I appreciate the Silpat baking mats stored and underused in my cabinet.