Once, I spent a summer on a 50-foot sailboat with a dozen other people. We slept on hammocks beneath the stars and cooked meals out of canned chicken and instant rice in a galley that makes my small kitchen huge by comparison. Occasionally, we would trawl a fishing line behind us as we sailed, then fry up filets or roll sushi with our catch.
Keeping the yacht in shipshape was a 12-person job, and we rotated chores. Naturally, I preferred cooking duties to clean-up responsibilities. Problem was, so did a fellow “mate.” While the rest of our crew went off to scrub the head and relinquished the chopping and sautéing to the two of us, we found we weren’t great kitchen co-pilots. A summer’s worth of tension came to a head over salad dressing emulsification methods one night, and we barely spoke the whole next day. Yep, we gave each other the silent treatment on a 50-foot yacht. (Also note: we were 15.)
The point is, while I love sharing this space with you readers and my living room with friends who come by, I don’t usually want us all to collaborate on a single bowl of salad dressing. (On the other hand, if everyone wanted to make sandwiches and grain salads and roasted potatoes and honey-drizzled cake, I bet we’d have a really lovely potluck picnic in the park together. Eating together is the best.) Am I alone in my penchant for cooking alone though?
Along came Lissa Ivy, Alex’s step-sister, who shattered my preference for potlucks over communal cookery with one invitation. An artist and collaborator by nature, she suggested making a meal of these spicy Swiss chard tartines at her place when we visited San Francisco earlier this summer. I agreed, but not all that willingly. Yet as I plodded through the Noe Valley farmers’ market and grumbled to myself about the overlong prepwork, a group vision for the meal cracked through my reluctance.
Lissa Ivy added lemon zest and kale to the greens mixture, and the flavors melded better than in the original. We spread goat’s milk butter on our baguette halves, and my god, goat’s milk butter is awesome. And Wesley, Lissa Ivy’s boyfriend, made potatoes.
What potatoes! Wesley used his dad’s method of parboiling the potatoes before roasting them. Been there – seen that, thought jaded old me, as I watched. But here’s what I hadn’t seen before.
After boiling the potatoes but before spreading them out on the baking sheet to roast, Wesley gave them a thorough shake, tossing each one with spices and oil, and–here’s the crucial part–roughing up each potato, multiplying the surface area.
When these scuffed-up, shaken potatoes go in for their roast, there’s a whole lot more room for them to get crispy. Every little mountain top and valley created by the earthquake you roused in the pot has a chance to turn into a golden, crispy little nugget. I’d venture to say each potato begins to resemble a tater tot, but without all that grating and shaping.
Unlike most posts, this one has a moral. You might become a genius hash brown cook when you put aside your solipsistic preferences and go in for the chaotic act of making breakfast with a group.
I’ve teamed up with Food Network and a host of other great bloggers to bring you Summer Fest, a season-long celebration of produce. Follow the links below to check out what everyone else has cooked up with their potatoes this week as we head into fall!
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Crock-Pot Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes
Dishin & Dishes: Roasted Potato Salad
Made By Michelle: Sweet Potato Macaroni and Cheese
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Red Chile Breakfast Potatoes
Virtually Homemade: Potato Onion Bread With Poppy Seeds
Sweet Life Bake: Tacos de Papa Potato (Potato Tacos)
From My Corner of Saratoga: Easy Crispy Fried Potatoes
Thursday Night Dinner: Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Oil
FN Dish: The Multipurpose Potato
Shakin’ Hash Browns
2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 5 medium potatoes), peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup olive oil
Put the potatoes in a medium-sized stockpot of cold water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occassionally to be sure the potatoes don’t stick to the bottom – about 12 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, watching to make sure the water doesn’t boil over, and simmer vigorously for another 8 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft and have a roughness around the edges.
While the potatoes are cooking, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot.
Add the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and smoked paprika. Put the lid on the pot and, holding it in place, give the potatoes several good shakes. You want to rough up the potatoes and distribute the oil, salt, and paprika as well. Don’t worry if some of the potatoes look a bit smushed – they’ll all crisp up in the end.
Scatter the shaken potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and cook for about 40 minutes, until all the potatoes are very crispy. Serve immediately, with other brunch treats like eggs, bacon, and pancakes.