Because the spring madness has taken me, and I already have had my first taste of steak (at least, cooked on my grill) for the year, I may as well stay on this food discussion kick a while. Right now winter is giving us a fairly normal last gasp, having dumped several inches of snow on us in the last couple of days with more promised tomorrow, and my grill is sitting in a pile of snow because I refuse to put it away again—it would mean surrender.
Today however is technically the first day of spring. Technically. It’s the equinox, but I don’t count spring as actually started until the weather’s good enough to go to the zoo. Outside my window all I can see is snow, but there are some breaks in the cloud cover providing for a little sun.
I have had steak and mushrooms. I even had corn on the cob fairly recently; although frozen, it was quite good. (For whatever reason, the frozen half-ears sold at BJ’s or Sam’s Club are usually superior in flavor to a typical fresh summer ear.) What I have not had yet are salt potatoes.
If you’re from Syracuse or the surrounding area, or spent any amount of time here ever, you know from salt potatoes. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you haven’t and that’s a dirty shame; you can make up for that by spreading the word, once you’ve sampled their deliciousness. The dish is made by boiling young (fairly small) white potatoes in saturated salt water; the salt crisps up the skin and forms a crusty layer of seasoning on the outside. The potatoes are then dipped or covered (and then dipped) in butter. That’s it. It has to be a white potato; yellow potatoes are terrible for this purpose, red even more so. There are some recipes online calling for red potatoes; these people are morons, and should be ignored.
All that said, I have never successfully made a batch. This is for a couple of reasons. Typically you get salt potatoes in 5 lb. bags that come with pre-measured salt, but a 5 lb. bag is way too much to make for my wife and myself unless I want to deal with a huge amount of leftovers (more on that later). The bags these days often have potatoes that are way too big anyway; anything over two inches across is probably a bad candidate. The last time I tried making these, I used a smaller bag of young potatoes. I believe I made two mistakes: I didn’t use quite enough salt, and I didn’t scrub the potatoes properly first.
The recipe is deceptively simple, but my main problem is with the salt concentration. All the recipes online say one of two things: Either get the water to saturation, or use one pound of salt for every four of potatoes. I don’t actually have a kitchen scale (I should), so I prefer volumetric measurements, but I also can’t ever seem to tell when I’ve hit saturation. The pre-bagged potatoes solve all of this, but they’re also designed to feed a family; a 5 lb. bag of salt potatoes should serve 6-8 people depending on their appetites. If you’re hosting a cookout, more bags are required, and you will be a pariah if you fail to melt enough butter for people to dish out.
The next time I try making salt potatoes I’m going to try measuring the salt by weight, even if it means buying a scale. (I may be able to use volumetric conversion, but it depends on the brand of salt. I’ll be using kosher, non-iodized salt for better flavor.) I’ll still stick with a small amount of potatoes, but I think I’ll still have leftovers.
There are many applications for leftover salt potatoes, including eating them the intended way—just be sure to poke holes in them with a fork before you nuke them. They heat up just fine. But the best way I’ve ever had leftover salt potatoes was in home fries. With breakfast or dinner, just cut up the potatoes into smaller pieces and fry them up in a pan with some oil. Pepper and other seasonings are optional—personally I’ve never much liked my potatoes peppery, but a little garlic and maybe some herbs wouldn’t go amiss. Others would probably prefer this with peppers and onions. Meat mixes in well here, so if you have some sausage this is a perfect place to use it. I’m sure bacon would be good in this dish as well.
Now my problem is having to wait for nicer weather. Having salt potatoes on their own, without accompanying steak or burgers or other such grill fare, feels wrong. Sure you cook them indoors, but that’s not the point. They’re a spring and summer food. We just need some spring or summer.