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José Pizarro's Salt-Crusted Potatoes with Cilantro Mojo

May 29, 2013

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.

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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 

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Marian Bull
    Marian Bull
  • Hellbelle
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Marian B. October 30, 2015
i'm going to make these tonight :))))))))))))
Hellbelle June 3, 2013
what kind of green chili pepper do i use in this recipe? my local store has anaheim, jalapeno, pasilla, poblano, serrano, and thai.
Kristen M. June 3, 2013
Good question. I've made it with both serrano and jalapeno -- both were great.
Amy F. June 3, 2013
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.
corriebaum March 27, 2015
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 :)
basheeka June 2, 2013
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!
Kristen M. June 3, 2013
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.
zoumonkie June 2, 2013
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.
Patti56 June 2, 2013
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?
Drink M. June 2, 2013
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".
Wendy5998 June 2, 2013
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.
Drink M. June 2, 2013
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.com/).
Karie E. June 2, 2013
Fantastic...friends and fam will love this recipe and add to their menus as well I am sure. Great post!
Drink M. June 1, 2013
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!
Yash June 2, 2013
Hi, can you give me a recipe with the goat cheese, sounds divine
Joy S. May 31, 2013
Wow wow wow! This is delicious!! Made this last night and total perfection!!
Tori H. May 30, 2013
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.
esssp May 29, 2013
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.
esssp May 29, 2013
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.
Alexandra S. May 29, 2013
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!
fiveandspice May 29, 2013
These look so fun and delicious! Definitely trying them out as soon as I can.
muireann May 29, 2013
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.
hardlikearmour May 29, 2013
This will definitely be on the menu next time I have a gathering. Great find!