Fryin' Taters

My food ventures have been plebeian at best in recent weeks. When I am busy, I tend to make the same old standbys time and time again. It makes the family happy though - they bitch because I will make something once and then never make it again in my quest to keep the Internet engaged.

Take the recent blizzard. I actually had an adult snow day when my company shut down. Woohooo!! Stuck in the house, we decided that a nice big breakfast would be perfect before we went out to wrestle with the snow and ice that had encased both of our vehicles.

And what did my lovely hubby and daughter request?

Fried taters and eggs.

Fried taters and eggs - they are so simple they are easy to ruin. And I will confess that I have ruined my fair share of both. But not this day. For I -Rosie the magnificent - hit the proverbial nail right on the head and produced a platter of perfectly prepared potatoes for my progeny and her progenitor. Yeah - there have been days when I was not worthy of the lowly spud or humble ova, but as the snow gently drifted against our battened door, I was able to rise above my base station and produce a breakfast that was fit for a monarch (and not any butterfly either!)

Lo! Behold my perfect potatoes!

Look pretty damn good huh? Mouth watering yet?

To me, these are not hash browns or home fries. Hash browns are shredded. Home fries are precooked then browned off in a hot pan. They are fried taters. That means you start with raw potatoes and fry until crisp.

There are a couple of secrets to making good fried potatoes.

The first is to make sure the potatoes are sliced thin. My new mandolin does an fantastic job in that respect. I would say that these were sliced about an 1/8th of an inch thick. If you have to cut by hand, make sure you keep all the slices fairly uniform.

The second is to have a large pan. A large heavy pan. Cast iron being my favorite. You want a lot of surface area - the potatoes need to be spread out so that they don't steam themselves into mush. You also want a pan that will hold the heat when you toss in the potatoes. A sudden dip in temperature is bad. It will allow the oil to soak into the potatoes before the whole mess comes back up to optimum frying temp.

The last is to pick the right type of potatoes. I prefer russets, but have made due with Yukon Golds in a pinch. How many potatoes to use? Once again, it depends on your pan. For my 12 inch skillet, I will use 4-5 large russets. Maybe 2-3 pounds of taters. You don't want to over-crowd.

These instructions are kind of sparse. I learned to cook these from my mom, who was also known for her fantastic fried potatoes. The real secret to any fried food is finding the golden ratio of food to oil for the specific pan you are using. if a recipe calls for 1/4 cup of oil in a 10 inch skillet, that is fine. But be aware that not all 10 inch skillets are built alike. A straight sided cast iron skillet will give you a different depth of oil than a skillet with sloping sides.

For my 12 inch cast iron skillet, I pour in enough oil to give me about 1/4" depth. I used to use Crisco. My ex-mother-in-law swore by it as did my mom, but I switched to veggie oil as it was something I always have on hand.

A full load of potatoes in my 12" cast iron skillet -
notice there is room around the edges and the whole pan is not packed tight?
That's what you want to see...

I heat the oil over medium high until a potato slice will sizzle when I drop it in. I think of it as "shallow deep frying". You want the moisture in the potato to escape, so you oil needs to be good and hot. Now the tricky part - I feed in a few potatoes at a time and let them start to brown off. Then I will add a few more and turn everything over. But this needs to be done fairly quick, so that the potatoes will cook at about the same rate. Repeat until all the potatoes are in the pan

Now comes time for the seasonings. I use seasoned salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and some ground chipotle pepper. You could use cayenne instead, but I like the heat and bit of smoke that the chipotle gives. You don't want to potatoes to be too spicy, so be stingy with the ground red pepper. Sprinkle the seasonings on top of the potatoes. They will get mixed in as you flip the whole sheebang.

Try not to flip too much. This will break up the potatoes. Have patience and give them 'lil guys on the bottom a chance form a brown crust before you flip. I will take the time to wrangle the really pale slices or slices that are not getting cooked through to the bottom.

The whole point of the exercise is to cook the potatoes through, drive off moisture and get a crisp exterior. Not every potato needs to be super golden brown, but I have been know to fish out the really brown ones to give the less cooked pieces a chance to brown off before we have charcoal briquettes in the pan.

The final touch for me is to add a finely chopped onion the last few minutes of cooking. They get transparent, but still retain a bit of crunch.

Drain the potatoes on paper towels to blot off excess grease and serve.

And there you have it - fried taters.

Any questions?


Columbus Foodie said...

Only one question. What time is breakfast? ;)

Yum, looks delicious. My mom used to make them too, and taught me how to do them.

Rosie said...

It's just that type of dish - you just have to learn how to make it from someone in the know...

I learned biscuits and cornbread the same way from my ex-mother-in-law.

I am trying to think what else I've picked up the same way.

Columbus Foodie said...

My grandmother taught me how to do granny pancakes (dense, eggy, but delicious) by showing me what the batter is supposed to look like - now when I make them, I just start throwing eggs, oil, milk, flour salt and sugar into a bowl until it's got the right texture. Mom taught me how to make potatoes, Oma taught me more things than I can remember (most of them involving Maggi).

Other than my mom, all of my elders are dead now. Sad, that - because now I'm at a point in my life where I could truly appreciate the wisdom they could give me (along with the cooking secrets that I can't quite get right from memory).