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Retro Recipe: Squashed Potatoes

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- amanda

UPDATE: We've reshot this wonderful potato trick (a crowd favorite since we first ran it in 2010) and attached a slideshow of Amanda making them anew. See below!

Yes, I know I just recently wrote about Tad's Roasted Potatoes, and his technique of using old white potatoes and roasting them in a cast iron pan to maximize the caramelization. I do love them, I really do. But then I remembered another great crisping technique, one I learned from Susan Spungen's underappreciated book, Recipes. In her version, which she calls Potato Tostones, she has you steam small white potatoes, lightly crush them in your palms and then crisp them in oil. I've made her recipe many times and recommend that you do too!

But this week, I wanted to take the potatoes one step further and really flatten them before crisping them in the pan, so there would be a thinner creamy potato center and a thicker, more perceptible crust. Susan also keeps her potatoes pure and minimal, seasoned with only coarse sea salt. I wanted to add some other flavors.

I began by forgetting to steam the potatoes, a mix of baby white and fingerlings, and instead plowing forth out of habit and boiling them. Then -- and I know this will surprise regular readers -- I used my handy meat pounder (see it in the photo above -- isn't it adorable?) to flatten the potatoes to 1/4-inch thick.

With the first batch, I decided to spread them with a thin mustard and thyme paste during their last turn in the pan. And this was a total failure. The mustard burned. The potatoes skins were bitter. Which, had I thought about it, makes a lot of sense: when trying to get a crust on potatoes, you don't want to put anything other than oil between the hot pan and the potato.

Chin up, I next cooked them without the mustard and kept the heat low so they browned in their own sweet time. This produced browned potatoes but no crust -- turns out potato skins prefer to bubble and singe when sauteed. I also figured out the difference between the potato types. Fingerlings cook better with this boil-then-brown method, because they hold together when squashed. The baby whites, although sweeter and more moist inside, fall apart a bit and can look like exploded amoebas. I'll leave it to you to choose your potato variety.

In the last batch, everything came together, and I discovered two crucial details. If you peel the potatoes before browning them, they get much crisper -- much like a hash brown without all of the hassle and heft. And if you want to add other seasonings, you need to chop or grind those herbs and spices fine enough to sprinkle over the crisped potatoes so the heat draws out their fragrance on the way to the table.

Originally, I thought I'd work the classic garlic and rosemary duo, but then I tried a simple seasoning of coarsely ground coriander, freshly grated black pepper and coarse salt. The coriander lends a citrusy scent and the coarse flakes from the spices add to the sense of crispness in the potatoes.

What I like best about these potatoes is that you can boil them in advance, keep them chilled in your fridge, then peel and squash a few whenever you have a mouth to feed. Or a desire to use your meat pounder.

Squashed Potatoes

Serves 4

  • 1 pound fingerling (preferably) or baby white potatoes
  • Salt
  • 4 plump garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Either 2 teaspoons roughly ground coriander seeds or 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

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