Pan-frying is the second best thing you can do to potatoes, so it’s frustrating to get all worked up and excited about them only to discover that the cook has done it all wrong – and it happens more than you’d think.
Frying potatoes is so easy, but like anything worth fussing over, there are steps one must take to do it properly. There’s this place near where I lived when I first moved to the city that does a $2.95 breakfast that will cure any ill you’ve managed to bring on yourself, but nostalgia has me remembering it better than it was. You get fried potatoes with the breakfast, and I remember dousing them in ketchup and being so happy to shovel them into my mouth with a breakfast beer and a pair of runny eggs.
But you see, there’s the first problem. Good fried potatoes don’t need ketchup. Ketchup is the saving grace of sub-par food; if something’s really good, it doesn’t need it.
To properly fry potatoes, you have to take the French fry approach and cook them twice. In the morning, chop your potatoes to a uniform size. I like to be able to eat mine in two bites, for reasons that are complicated but which I cannot tell you about without coming across unstable in the worst case, or anal-retentive in the least.
The little yellow new potatoes are best, but little red ones will work too. If all you’ve got are russets you can still make fried potatoes, but they aren’t going to be as lovely. A slightly waxy potato will hold together more nicely in the pot and in the pan.
Boil your potatoes in salted water until fork-tender. Drain, do not rinse, and then lay them out on a plate or baking sheet. Leave them on the counter or kitchen table for a few hours, preferably all day. You want them to dry out a bit. The second problem with a lot of fried potatoes is that they’re plopped into a hot pan still wet. Moisture is the enemy of frying. I like to boil my potatoes in the morning, go about my day, and then come back around dinner time; the edges get rough and dry, which is perfect for a hot pan – you won’t find yourself splattered with smoldering grease.
And you’ll need duck fat. Or bacon fat. Butter or olive oil or whatever oil you have will work fine too, but if you have duck fat, this is its best application. Use a fat you like the flavour of. And use a lot of it – a tablespoon of fat per person should do it, but use your best judgment. For four servings of potatoes, I used three tablespoons. I might have used more if I wasn’t being stingy with my duck fat reserves.
You’ll also need time. Heat the fat until melted and hot over medium heat in a large pan. Add your potatoes, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Cooking these over medium heat for a long time will mean that your potatoes will crisp up and turn golden and lovely. Don’t rush this. Add salt and pepper, and if you’re feeling fancy, lemon zest or fresh herbs are also nice.
There’s room for creativity. Dress them with vinaigrette and scallions for a warm potato salad, or cut into wedges before boiling to make jojo fries. If you’re all by yourself, make just a few and squish a bit of fresh lemon juice over top and eat them in front of the TV with a dollop of mayonnaise for dipping. But no ketchup. You won’t need ketchup for these.
Unrelated to potatoes, my friend Tracy has been actively campaigning on my behalf, as this blog was nominated in a couple of categories in the Canadian Food Blog Awards. I find the attention both extremely flattering and slightly embarrassing, as to be honest I am more comfortable being in trouble than being recognized – at least when I’m in trouble I know for certain I’ve done something to deserve it. One of the conditions of Tracy doing my dirty work is that I am supposed to be more active and shameless with my self-promotion. I’ve mentioned that you can vote for Well fed, flat broke in the People’s Choice category a few times in recent posts, but never so blatantly as this.
I realized after a whole bunch of people on Facebook made profile pictures of this that I look like the hungry version of Simon’s Cat. Also, I think the tiny URL is dead. Please don’t let any of that stop you from voting. Also, when you’re done, go look at the list of other blogs nominated in a range of edible, drinkable categories – they’re all Canadian and really very good. At this point if we were chatting in person, I’d lower my head and try to scurry out of the conversation or make an awkwardly “hilarious” joke to distract us both so we could move on. Imagine that happening right about here.