I was thinking of a great potato 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 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. 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. —Amanda Hesser
fingerling (preferably) or baby white potatoes
plump garlic cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse sea salt
Either 2 teaspoons roughly ground coriander seeds or 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with 2 inches of cold water. Generously salt the water. Place the pan over high heat, bring to a boil and cook at an active simmer until the potatoes are tender. Drain and let cool enough to handle.
Peel the potatoes (you can skip this step if you find it too tedious). Using a meat pounder or the base of a small heavy saute pan, press down on the potatoes to flatten them, one at a time, until 1/4-inch thick. (You may need a spatula to lift them in one piece from your work surface; lay them on a baking sheet.) Flatten the garlic cloves also, leaving the skins on.
Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Coat the base of the pan with a thick layer of olive oil. Add just enough squashed potatoes to fill the base of the pan. Tuck the garlic cloves in between the potatoes. Adjust the heat between medium and medium-low so the potatoes brown slowly. Let them sizzle away until nut brown, 5 to 8 minutes, then flip and brown the other side. (The garlic may cook more quickly, so keep an eye on it. Brown it on both sides, then transfer it to a serving platter.) When the potatoes are browned, transfer to the serving platter, and season with freshly ground black pepper, a little sea salt, and either the roughly ground coriander or rosemary. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.
Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.