The holidays are here and it’s time to cook our special-occasion favorites. Sometimes that means luxury food — lobster, prime rib, maybe even truffles and caviar — but delicious food doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Some of my favorite holiday dishes are made with the humble potato. Here are the three recipes I like to make most. Each of these requires a different kind of spud, so don’t mix them up or you’ll end up with too much or too little starch in your dish. In case you’re wondering, I haven’t included French fries because I save them for eating out.
Rich and Smooth Mashed Potatoes
Most mashed potato recipes call for boiling potatoes. I prefer to bake mine. Why? Because while the potatoes are boiling they get waterlogged, and I don’t want my mashers to taste like water. The advantage of baking is that the potatoes dry out a bit and can, therefore, absorb more butter. How much butter? In the 1980s French chef Joël Robuchon became famous for, among other things, puree de pomme. His recipe included just four ingredients: potatoes, butter, milk and salt. For every two pounds of potatoes he used one pound of butter. I’ve cut the butter in half, but don’t take out more than that. This is a holiday dish after all.
I’ve stuck to his four basic ingredients, but you can jazz these up as you see fit, maybe add some roasted garlic or blue cheese. Perhaps the most important part of this recipe is how you mash the potatoes. My favorite tool for the job is a potato ricer. It shreds the cooked potatoes into miniscule little pieces ready to be mashed. It also catches any skin you have inadvertently left on the potato. If you don’t have a ricer, go out and get one! The second-best choice is a food mill. Whatever you do, do not use a blender or food processor to mash potatoes! They extract too much starch from the potatoes and you end up with a sticky, gloppy mess.
- 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, washed
- ½ pound unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
- ½ cup milk
- Salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Prick each potato a few times with a fork and place them on a baking sheet.
- Cook the potatoes until they are completely soft. The exact cooking time will depend on the size and water content of your potatoes. Mine took an hour. If you are in doubt, cook them a little longer. In this instance, a little over-cooked is better than a little under.
- Remove the cooked potatoes from the oven; when they are cool enough to handle, peel them.
- Pass each potato through a potato ricer into a large bowl.
- Add the butter, a few pieces at a time, and stir with a wooden spoon until all the butter is incorporated. The butter should melt in the process.
- Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon. Add milk until the potatoes are the texture you like. I prefer mine a bit on the liquid-y side. If you like yours thicker, add less milk.
- Season to taste with salt. (If you’re adding roasted garlic, cheese, or some other seasoning add now.) Don’t skimp on the salt. Potatoes need lots.
- If you do these ahead of the time they’ll thicken as they cool, so you’ll have to add more milk when you heat them up.
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
This is the simplest recipe in my repertoire and one of my favorites. It’s the perfect accompaniment to any roasted meat. The key to its success is buying fingerling potatoes. Sure, you could roast any waxy potato, or even russets, but fingerlings are earthy, buttery, nutty and a little sweet. Really nothing compares. They cost more but are worth every penny. They are also small so they cook pretty fast. I like to keep mine simple and tasting like, well, potato, so this recipe calls only for fingerlings, oil and salt. If you want to add spices or herbs go right ahead. My favorite additions are smoked paprika, cumin or rosemary and garlic.
- 1 ½ pounds fingerling potatoes, washed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 425°.
- Put potatoes on a baking dish and toss them with olive oil and a generous amount of salt. If you’ll be adding spices or herbs add them now.
- Place potatoes in the oven and cook until they can easily be pierced with a knife but are still a little bit firm. Start checking at around 30 minutes. If they are still hard, put them back and check them again at five minute intervals.
Makes 12 large or 24 small latkes
Jews eat fried foods for Hanukkah. Last year we published a recipe for zalabiya, a donut-like fritter that Middle Eastern Jews eat for the holiday. This year we are going Ashkenazi and making latkes. For this recipe russet potatoes are perfect. Their high starch content will produce a latke that is crispy on the outside but soft in the middle. You’ll need to grate or shred the potatoes and the onion. The good old box grater is the best tool for the job. You can also use the grating disk on your food processor, but then you have to wash the machine.
- 2 pounds russet potatoes, washed
- 1 medium onion, peeled
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 tbsp salt
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Apple sauce and/or sour cream to accompany the latkes
- Place a box grater over a large bowl and grate the potatoes and the onion. Add enough cold water to cover and let sit for about five minutes.
- Drain the potatoes and onion into a colander and then place them in a clean dishtowel. Squeeze the towel to remove as much liquid as possible from the potato mixture.
- Put the potato mixture in a dry bowl and add the eggs, flour and salt. Mix thoroughly.
- Place a large frying pan on the stove and pour in enough oil so it is about ¼ inch deep. Heat the oil. It should be hot enough so that it sizzles when you add the mixture.
- Using your hands, form the potato mixture into round, flat disks. You can make these any size you’d like. I prefer mine around 3 inches in diameter.
- Carefully fry the disks in the oil in a single layer. Don’t overcrowd the pan. You’ll have to do this in batches. When the edges get brown, flip them over and cook the second side. It should take about five minutes per side. (If you are afraid of placing the latkes in the hot oil by hand, you can use two spoons to slip mounds of the potatoes mixture into the oil. Then use the back of one of the spoons to flatten the disks.)
- Place the cooked latkes on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Repeat the process until you’ve cooked all of the potato. If you are doing a lot or you want to make them ahead of time, you can keep them warm in a 225 degree oven.
- Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 233.