This is a great way to prepare mini potatoes, be they new potatoes appearing at the market or those sold around the year in grocery stores. The method may strike you as bizarre - but try it once and you will be making it again and again. The bizarre part is that, before roasting, the potatoes are cooked in water seasoned with over one cup of salt! The result is not a sodium attack, but a super tasty potato that is creamy and melts in your mouth.
The recipe is from America's Test Kitchen with my tips added. They do not explain the "physics" behind this technique and that pushed me to the internet to do a bit of research.
Serious Eats begins by explaining that this is a classic Colombian dish! The recipe they offer uses only half a cup of salt, boils the potatoes until the water is gone, and typically skips the oven roasting step - though the writer offers some variations which do include that step. She explains the science: "Potatoes boiled in plain water retain 100% of their starting weight... Potatoes cooked in heavily salted water, on the other hand, lose a good 15% of their initial weight. This is presumably due to osmosis, the tendency of a solvent (in this case the potatoes' internal moisture) to travel across a membrane from an area of lower solute concentration (inside the potato) to an area of higher solute concentration (outside the potato). The result is a potato that has a more intense potato flavor and denser, creamier texture (as opposed to the fluffier texture of plain boiled potatoes). The skin of salt-boiled potatoes also ends up thinner and more delicate."
it gets more interesting. Turns out that these "salt potatoes" are iconic in Syracuse and central New York State - to the point where grocery stores sell measures of potatoes packaged with the correct amount of salt. The ratio is one cup of salt to six cups of water - and that explains the ratio suggested by ATK. The NYT claims the tradition began in the 1800's by workers that included Irish immigrants. Seems that Syracuse had a thriving salt industry based extraction from nearby salt springs, and workers ate mainly salt potatoes.
The ATK recipe suggests that this serves 4 - though I have seen it gobbled up by two to three people. Much depends on what else you are serving. You'll need to plan for about an hour of prep / cooking time.
- rinse the potatoes and check for any unsightly features that need to be removed
- select a pot for boiling - a Dutch oven is ideal - never use an aluminum pan - it will be ruined by the salt
- adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 500 F
- line a rimmed baking sheet with foil; this refers to a "half-sheet" pan - I have two and use either - 15 x 10" or 16 x 12" (you may be surprised by how much space the potatoes take up once they are "squashed" on the pan)
- set a wire rack inside the above rimmed baking sheet (or... place the wire rack on a thin dish towel or another baking sheet - something needs to be under the rack to collect the drips from the cooked, cooling potatoes)
- and - read all Tips below before starting
2 lbs small red potatoes
1 1/4 cups salt (see Tips)
6 TB olive oil
Bring 2 quarts water to boil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir in potatoes and salt, and cook until just tender - paring knife slips easily in and out of potatoes, 20 to 30 minutes.
Drain potatoes or remove them from the water with a spider; transfer them to the wire rack; let dry for 10 minutes. If the rack is on the sheet that will be used for roasting, remove the rack and prepare the foil lined sheet for the next step by brushing evenly with 6 TB olive oil.
3 TB malt vinegar
Transfer potatoes to oiled baking sheet. Flatten each potato using a flat-bottomed glass or some such thing until they are about ½ inch thick. Brush the potatoes with half the vinegar and season with pepper. Roast until the potatoes are well browned, 25-30 minutes. Brush with remaining vinegar. Transfer potatoes to a serving platter, smashed side up.
Notes and Tips...
- Potatoes - ATK suggests using red skinned potatoes, but I have used regular on occasion. They need to be "new" potatoes, as in small - measuring 1-2" in diameter. If you checked out the Serious Eats link mentioned above - she displays images reflecting that she uses a variety of small potatoes.
- Potato quantity - before doing my research, I found that 2 pounds of potatoes nicely covered the bottom of my Dutch oven - I used that as my guideline. The Serious Eats article seems to show a larger quantity of potatoes in the pot. Maybe the quantity does not matter too much? Have not experimented yet.
- Salt - I am reminded that I have not yet uploaded my review of salt - which is more complicated than you might imagine. Regular table salt, kosher salt and Diamond Crystal salt all have differing ratios of sodium to measure. For example, there is more sodium in one teaspoon of fine, regular table salt than in a teaspoon of more coarse, large crystal kosher salt. Thus, in this recipe here are your choices: table salt = 1 1/4 cups; kosher salt = 1 1/2 cups; Diamond Crystal = 2½ cups
- Vinegar - as suggested, I prefer malt vinegar, but cider vinegar could also be used.
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