28 September 2011

like a candle-lit room in a folktale

I tried a recipe out of The Classical Cookbook over the weekend and it was not quite a stunning success (too much vinegar? wrong wine? combination of the above?). Worse, it looked like a dog's breakfast.

I think it has potential -- to be good, if not to be pretty -- so I am going to tinker with it a bit. This week, I'll share instead a simple potato recipe that I learned years ago.

The story:

While I was living in St Andrews, one of my friends did a short stint as a housesitter/cat wrangler for some people who lived in a large house outside of town. I forget the details, but the people -- her dentist? a friend of her dentist? -- were on holiday and wanted someone to watch their 5 cats while they were away.

The arrangement gave my friend not only the run of a very lovely home and access to cats for a fortnight, but also the use of a car. The house was several miles from town out the Cupar road, so this was practical, as well as generous.

On the Saturday she was at the house, my friend phoned me and asked if I'd like to come play with the cats too. Well, of course. The worst thing about living abroad, for me, was not having a pet. My supervisor and other faculty in the School of History were gracious about letting me play with their dogs, which helped, but I got very little cat time.

When my friend came to pick me up, though, there was a problem. The lock on the door had jammed and she couldn't get back into the house. We managed to track down a joiner, which was not easy on a Saturday afternoon in a small town in Scotland, and stood around in the rain while he jiggered with the lock. It was not an easy repair; ultimately he had to break a window to get into the house and replace the entire lock mechanism.

In short, it was an interesting afternoon in all sorts of unplanned ways. It offered insight into the real lives of people in another country, and the first time I really held my own in a conversation with someone who spoke broad Doric. (We talked about sheepdogs while he replaced the lock). It was also, I think, the first time someone addressed me as 'lassie' unironically.

By the time the lock had been replaced and the broken window repaired, we were colder and wetter than usual and getting hungry. We put on the kettle and began raiding both the larder and the cookbook collection.

Curled up with the cookbooks, a mug of tea, and an obliging feline, I found a potato recipe that has served me without fail ever since. I can't remember the title of the cookbook, or the author, or even the exact name of the recipe. It was something like 'Pommes Sautée Yvette,' or possibly Yvonne, or maybe it was 'Yvette's (or Yvonne's) Sautéed Potatoes,' or ...

Google has never heard of Yvette (or Yvonne) or her sautéed pommes, so perhaps the source of this recipe really is lost to me. But whoever Yvonne (or Yvette) was, she fried a good potato.

1 medium potato for each person
flour, for dusting
olive oil
a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

The quantities here are flexible, though if I were making this for more than 4 people, I might do it in small batches and keep them warm in the oven.

You can use dried rosemary if you don't have fresh, but this is much better made with the fresh herb.

Scrub the potatoes but do not peel them, and cut them into small dice (1/4 to 1/2 inch is about right). Put the potato cubes into a bowl with enough water to cover and leave them to soak for at least 30 minutes while you do something else.

When the potatoes have soaked, drain and rinse them, and then pat them dry carefully. Toss them with just enough flour to coat the cubes and set aside for about 5 minutes.  It may seem counterintuitive to soak the extra starch out of the potatoes and then dust them with flour, but the process gives you potatoes with a lovely crispy brown exterior and a tender, almost creamy, interior.  Do not skip the flour.

While the potatoes are sitting, take a heavy-bottomed pan with a well-fitting lid and pour enough oil into the botton to fill it to a depth of 1/4 inch. Set the pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (a drop of water should sizzle and evaporate almost immediately), add the potatoes and stir for a minute or two, until the potatoes are coated with the oil. Add the rosemary sprigs.

Cover the pot and continue to cook over medium-high heat. Do not uncover and stir, but shake it occasionally so the potatoes don't stick or burn. The potatoes will be done in 15 to 20 minutes; after 15 minutes you may lift the lid cautiously and poke at the potatoes with a fork to see if they're done. If they are not, cover them back up and give them a few minutes more.

When the potatoes are cooked through, remove the rosemary sprigs, season with salt and pepper, and serve at once. This is good with almost anything you want to serve with it. Maybe not cake and ice cream. But fish, chicken, beef, pork, lamb, eggs? These potatoes will happily be friends with all of them.

Leonard E. Nathan

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1 comment:

  1. Oh, I do like a potato recipe! And this is so easy. Nothing spells comfort food to me more than the humble spud. Yum. C.x


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