Friday, May 20, 2011

Fried Potatoes

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 tries to eat on $6/day without cheating too much.

Alright, fine, so fried potatoes don't need too much of a recipe: potatoes, oil, salt and pepper. Oh, and ketchup. Because we all know, especially if we live in this family, that they need about 12 pounds of ketchup as well. But that wasn't my point. My point was that they don't need much of a recipe, but they do have a bit of a technique.

When I was first married (as in not much of a cook and still a little afraid of oil) I wanted to make a sort of pan-fried potato. I cut the potatoes into rounds and tried pan frying them in a wee tiny bit of olive oil. They came out raw in the middle. So I started microwaving them for a minute or two in a single layer under plastic wrap and then pan frying them. This worked and they didn't taste too bad either. In fact, I suppose that if you're going the low-fat route in life, that might just be the way to go. But I jumped that ship years ago, and let me tell you real pan-fried potatoes are so much better. They're crispy on the outside (something my earlier potatoes were missing) and soft and yummy in the middle.

How do they get that way?

First off, cube them to about 1 centimeter square.

Secondly, they need some oil, and probably more than, as they say, a drizzle. You can use olive, but it might smoke. I use canola. You want to have a nice millimeter of oil on the bottom of your pan.

Thirdly, do them one layer thick. More than that and you're in for trouble.

Fourth, I use a cast iron skillet. I'm sure you don't have to use a cast iron skillet. But I believe that cast iron does aid in goldenliness where potatoes are concerned. Of course, cast iron can be tricky, especially if your skillet, like mine, came from freecycle (thank you freecycle lady), and wasn't seasoned at all. If your cast iron seasoning is still a work in progress, you might get a few potatoes sticking. That's okay. In fact it might be the potential for stickiness that makes the cast iron ideal. Why? Because if you try to flip the potatoes too early, they stick--not just a few stubborn ones, but all of them. This lets you know it's not time to flip them. This forces you to wait even if you're hungry and the ketchup is ready and you don't want to. If they're all sticking to your pan, give them a few more minutes. When they're ready (if you've used your millimeter or more of oil), you'll be able to get that spatula (use a metal one or one that can withstand high temp's) under than and flip them over, revealing their lovely golden bottoms. Do the same thing on the other side.

Fifth, heat your pan to medium or a bit hotter than that. You don't want it so hot you throw the potatoes on and they burn in one minute while remaining raw inside, but you don't want them sitting there for an hour either. Your oil shouldn't be smoking when you put the potatoes in. Your potatoes should sizzle gently. They should not sizzle as if they are preparing to burn out their days in damnation. Just a nice sizzle, a cozy sizzle--a happily married couple sizzle rather than a just met firecrackers sizzle.

Sixth: You should start with oil, but about halfway through (about when it's time to flip when the oil might be getting a little soaked up anyway), if you drizzle some butter into the pan or on the potatoes, well, it's just really good.

And now, the "recipe:"

Fried Potatoes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: .30

2 large russet potatoes
1/4-1/2 C canola oil
2-4 Tbsp butter (optional)
salt and pepper

Chop potatoes into centimeter sized cubes.

While you're chopping, heat oil in cast iron skillet. (Begin with 1/4 C and if your potatoes soak that up, pretend I didn't just say 'soak that up' about oil and that really you just forgot to put oil in, and then add the other 1/4 C oil or the butter or both. Because who needs arteries anyway.)

Throw in cubed potatoes. Salt and pepper generously (unless you're really just going to go nuts with the ketchup later). Let cook until golden brown on the bottom and you can flip them easily (or fairly easily for those of us with season-challenged pans).

Add more oil or butter if necessary or desired. Brown the other side of the potatoes. Check one for doneness (and be sure to blow it before popping it into your mouth, because those puppies are hot).

Serve with ketchup or, if you are more sophisticated than my children (and let's hope you are), see some seasoning suggestions below.

Because of all that outer crispiness, you can really get a lot of punch from a variety of seasonings should you choose to use them (if, let's say, you are not the type of person to slather every potato-like morsel in front of you in ketchup). Sprinkle the herbs on with the salt and pepper. Here are some ideas as the herbs in my garden start to get going:
rosemary would be just smashing
parsley with salt and pepper
an Italian blend of oregano, basil, and winter savory or thyme.

I'm planning to do a post on herbs tomorrow to discuss all the ones I think you should buy. Because I was an oldest child. And I'm bossy like that.

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