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José Pizarro's Salt-Crusted Potatoes with Cilantro Mojo

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Boil new potatoes just a little differently for a head-turning new appetizer.

The season of relaxed entertaining is upon us, and it's time to let go of your favorite crostini recipe.

And so we bring you a flashy new appetizer -- one that will kick off a party with heart-thumping flavors, invite ice-breaking questions (are those fossils? how do I eat them?), and break down any notions of proper etiquette (spoiler: everyone's fingers are going to get salty -- no frilly toothpicks allowed!). 

More: An eat-with-your-hands kind of party.

It comes from José Pizarro's Spanish Flavors, a handsome book on the cuisines of five regions of Spain. As Food52er shovel2spoon explained to me, "This recipe transforms plain boiled potatoes into a tapas quality dish."


And she's right -- you're essentially just boiling potatoes. But you do it in a wide shallow pan, in a single layer, without a lid. And with a lot of sea salt. 


The water bubbles away, and in 20 minutes, the potatoes have sort of steam-boiled tender. "The crust only comes out on the potatoes in the very last moments, and then poof!" wrote shovel2spoon. A dusty layer of salt covers the potatoes like ash.

The outsides look fiercely salty, but the middles are creamy and gently seasoned, so an initial slap of salt and pop of taut skin quickly gives way to buttery flesh. 

Pizarro says you can advise your salt-fearing guests that they're welcome to brush off as much salt as they like. But given this recent New York Times article, is there really anything to fear? Discuss. (Another ice-breaker!)


The kicker is a cuminy, garlicky cilantro mojo -- a bright green slurry you bang out in a mortar and pestle or mini-food processor, perfect for dragging your crusty potatoes across.

Altogether it's so good you won't want to wait for your next dinner party to make it again. And that's okay -- it makes a great any-night side too. Just grill a steak or chop or butterflied chicken to go with it and the mojo will get even more play. And yes, we'll allow a fork and knife -- just don't get used to it. 

José Pizarro's Salt-Crusted Potatoes with Cilantro Mojo 

From Spanish Flavors (Kyle Books, 2013)

Serves 6

Salt-Crusted Potatoes:

2 1/4 pounds evenly sized waxy new potatoes, such as fingerling, scrubbed but unpeeled
Sea salt flakes

Cilantro Mojo:

3 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 green chili pepper, seeded and chopped
Leaves from a bunch of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds
Scant 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar, Muscatel if possible

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom 

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.

Tags: Genius, genius recipes, potatoes, salt, cilantro, Jose Pizarro

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Comments (22)


over 2 years ago Hellbelle

what kind of green chili pepper do i use in this recipe? my local store has anaheim, jalapeno, pasilla, poblano, serrano, and thai.


over 2 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Good question. I've made it with both serrano and jalapeno -- both were great.


over 2 years ago Amy Farges

Why go to Spain for recipes? Salt potatoes are a tradition in upstate NY, in the Finger Lakes. Every time we are up there we stock up on them at Wegmans.


5 months ago corriebaum

Yes! I live in Skaneateles & grew up in central NY. Salt potatoes are def a tradition here. A delicious one! I'm trying the mojo this year :)


over 2 years ago basheeka

These look awesome. Are you supposed to use cumin seeds or fennel seeds? You mentioned fennel in your description and those look fennel seeds in the photo, but Cumin seeds are listed in the recipe. Also, if using cumin, can you use ground in place of the seeds? If so, how much. Thanks, can't wait to try!


over 2 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Thank you -- that was a mistake, cumin seed is correct! The amount of 1 teaspoon is after grinding, so you can substitute 1 teaspoon pre-ground cumin.


over 2 years ago zoumonkie

Salt potatoes with a fancy name. Great for picnics as the salt will preserve the cooked potatoes and prevent food poisoning. The risk in potato salad is the cooked potatoes more than the mayonnaise.


over 2 years ago Patti56

So cooking with water evaporated and all that salk won't ruin my good stainless steel pan?? or is it better to use a non-stick one?


over 2 years ago Drink me · Eat me

I would recommend to use a pan that you're going to use only for cooking this recipe:-)). In fact, at home, we have what we call the "wrinkly potatoes pan".


over 2 years ago WendyCNY

This recipe is nothing new to a Syracusan from New York State. I have been eating salt crusted potatoes for over 50 years. Everyone in Syracuse just calls them salt potatoes. What you do is take small new potatoes and boil them in salt. The standard recipe calls for one pound of salt for every four pounds of potatoes. You can even buy a bag potatoes with a bag of salt included at your grocery store. We eat them at picnics, county fairs, barbeques and restaurants. They are particularly popular at the New York State Fair. But then would need a sausage, onion and pepper sandwich to go with them.

Here is a little local history of how the salt potato came to be.

Syracuse, New York has a long history of salt production. Salt springs located around Onondaga Lake were used to create consumable salt that was distributed throughout the northeast via the Erie Canal. The brine was laid out to dry on large trays. The salt residue was then scraped up, ground, and packaged.

During the 1800s, Irish salt miners would bring a bag of small, unpeeled, substandard potatoes to work each day where they would boil the potatoes in the "free-flowing" salt brine. Thus the salt potato was born.

The herbs from your recipe sound like a great addition to a Syracuse tradition.


over 2 years ago Drink me · Eat me

I didn't know about the Syracusan crusted potatoes till I found out a couple of months ago: it's kind of weird, because they're so typical in the Canary Islands (it's the only place in Spain where are cooked like that) and we even have a 'special' kind of potatoes (called "bonitas", what literally means "beautiful/pretty") for it (http://www.papasarrugadas...).


over 2 years ago Karie Engels

Fantastic...friends and fam will love this recipe and add to their menus as well I am sure. Great post!


over 2 years ago Drink me · Eat me

What a nice surprise! I'm glad to see this recipe here, as it's original from my birthplace: the Canary Islands - Spain (we call them wrinkly potatoes, though:-)). If you like the cilantro mojo, don't miss it with goat grilled cheese: absolutely delicious!


over 2 years ago Yash

Hi, can you give me a recipe with the goat cheese, sounds divine


over 2 years ago Joy Silva

Wow wow wow! This is delicious!! Made this last night and total perfection!!


over 2 years ago Tori Haschka

Oh, am such a fan of Jose. We live a five minute walk from his two places in Bermondsey; Pizarro and his jamon and sherry bar, Jose. They really are must-go places if you're in London.


over 2 years ago esssp

I made these just now and the sauce is a hit and so versatile. I can think of a number of things to use it on! I used ground cumin b/c it was what I had, and I would probably use a bit less than a teaspoon. Since the potatoes are salty, next time I would use less salt in the sauce than is listed, too.


over 2 years ago esssp

amended: i would add way less salt into the sauce. probably half as much, if not less even. i should have trusted my gut when i thought a teaspoon would be too much.


over 2 years ago Alexandra Stafford

Oh my, these look delicious. I have never tried this method and am definitely going to have to do so soon. Many years ago, I worked at a restaurant where the chef cooked potatoes by the case-full also with a ton of salt — seriously, like 3/4 of a box of kosher salt per pot (mind you the pots were enormous). His trick was to cover the potatoes with water, bring the pot to a boil, then turn the pot off. The potatoes finished cooking as the pot of water cooled. No matter the kind of potato, this method cooked the potatoes perfectly — they were never overcooked, and they were perfectly salty. Once the potatoes cooled, the chef would brown them in oil with more salt and some chopped rosemary and thyme. Delish. Not as spectacularly salty or delicious looking as these, just something I'm reminded of as I read this post. Can't wait to try this new method!


over 2 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

These look so fun and delicious! Definitely trying them out as soon as I can.


over 2 years ago muireann

Funny. Minus the herb sauce, this is a very common presentation in upstate New York, where they are called "salt potatoes" and are a staple of community fundraisers and barbecues.


over 2 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

This will definitely be on the menu next time I have a gathering. Great find!