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Author Notes: You say potato, I say dey-better-be-crispy, let’s call the whole thing off!
Perhaps as a metaphor for this mortal coil, potatoes are fairly easy to cook but difficult to master. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed (here, a relative term) soggy french fries, gummy mashed taters, or mushy “pan-fried” spuds can attest to that. Unlike some other veggies (again, a relative term), potatoes want to be cooked and only benefit from a second round in the frier or oven. My favorite kind of potato is crispy, and not because it’s been prepared al dente, but rather cooked so thoroughly that its skin crackles and has relinquished all moisture. Like my tear ducts or this fine earth of ours in 40 years. Topical!
Micah received divine inspiration for this particular potato from Otium on Grande Avenue in Los Angeles, symbiotically nestled next to his favorite new museum, The Broad. They served their crispy, smashed fingerling potatoes with an Aleppo pepper crème fraîche that he says transcended space & time, or at the very least, lunch. When he set about re-creating the dish for us, he knew he wanted to par-cook the taters somehow. Since he loved the vinegar potatoes we featured with our fish fry, he decided to boil his in water + vinegar. The result is delightfully tangy, adding a flavor dimension that I would compose epic poems to if anyone at Farrar, Straus and Giroux would ever call me back.
We’ve substituted labneh for Otium’s crème fraîche and seasoned it with Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, gifted to us by our dear friend Sheika; if you don’t know any Jordanian nationals, store-bought is also fine.
Imitation is the sincerest form of food blogging, so please—from Otium’s kitchen, to our table, to your tummy— enjoy this, the personal, the political, the potato.
Mostly the potato though. —Micah Solano
For the Herbed Labneh:
cups greek yogurt
lemon zested, + juice of 1/2
tablespoon za'atar, + more for garnish
For the Potatoes:
pounds baby potatoes
cup apple cider vinegar, + 2 tbsp.
tablespoon kosher salt
tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Drape cheesecloth or several paper towels over a sieve. Position the sieve over a bowl for draining. Place the greek yogurt in the sieve and allow to drain for at least half an hour to allow as much water to drain as possible. If using a lesser quality yogurt, more draining time will be needed. Once the yogurt is drained, add to a large bowl for mixing. Add lemon zest, juice, salt, Za'atar, and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Place potatoes in a medium pot, and add vinegar and salt, reserving the 2 extra tablespoons of vinegar for later. Add water until the potatoes are covered by an inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, drain the potatoes and pat dry with paper towels. Place potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the 2 reserved tablespoons of vinegar over the dried potatoes and set aside to rest.
- Using a fork, lightly smash the potatoes until slightly flattened, yet still in one piece. Heat enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. In batches, carefully sauté the potatoes over medium heat, only turning once, until golden brown and crispy (approximately 5 minutes) on each side.
- To finish, smear a tablespoon of herbed labneh onto your plate, arrange potatoes over it, and season with salt + pepper, additional Za'atar, and chives. Serve immediately.