Wednesday, December 13, 2006

grease fires: 101

I'm really pleased with myself that I made these potatoes for lunch, and was thinking "wow, I've really improved upon Ruth Reichl's recipe here," nearly started a grease fire and burned the bejesus out of both my forearms, and yet I still have the audacity to post it on my blog. I think the recipe is JUST THAT GOOD. So, I was planning on taking some really pretty pictures of these guys after they were done ... but I didn't take them, after the arm-burning and near grease fire...

So here it is - my improvement upon Ruth Reichl's recipe. HA.

I read her memoir (one of them, I guess), Garlic and Sapphires, many many months ago, and I still think about it almost every day. And I make the recipes frequently. They are GOOD. And the memoir bothers me in some ways, yet I continue to think about it. So it's not that it's bad... I just have some issues with it. And she'll probably find some way to sue me and put me in jail or something for trashing it on my blog, and I swear to GOD I like it, and maybe if I knew her I wouldn't feel this way, but this book is written about the period when she started working as the restaurant critic for The New York Times, through her tenure there, until she started working as the editor of Gourmet Magazine. I love the stories in the book. She's dressing up in crazy costumes, seeing how these different types of people get treated at different NYC restaurants ... it's all very exciting and scandalous. But this issue occasionally comes up, where she is lamenting, along the lines of, ... Ohhhh I used to be in Berkeley, all 'stick it to the man' and eating granola and whatnot and really believing in things, and now I'm the restaurant critic for the New York Times, and I don't want to be an elitist and lose touch with the people BLAH BLAH BLAHHH and I just find it quite false and self-indulgent and patronizing. Maybe that's just me.

I've made quite a few of the recipes she printed in that book, and man are they good, though. This one is almost great, but I think it needs a little help, and I am truly a supreme asshole for thinking I can improve upon Ruth Reichl's recipe, based on something she ate in a famous New York restaurant. Especially when I nearly started a grease fire making it... But these hash browns are GOOD and I just want to get my 2 cents in here.

Hash Browns

about 2 lbs. small waxy potatoes
6T unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, very finely diced
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes about 10 minutes, until they are cooked about 1/2 way through. Drain, and dump them into some cold ice water to make them stop cooking, and cool enough so you can touch them. Skin them and chop them up into cubes of about 1/4".

Melt 4T butter of medium heat in a 10" non-stick skillet. Add the potatoes, smoothing them over to make a cake, and let them cook, undisturbed (only occasionally pressing down on the top of the cake with the back of a spatula, but not moving the potato cubes around) until the bottom layer is browned together. That butter will be bubbling up through the potato cubes and making them soooo delicious. (and making them hold together...)

Evenly sprinkle the diced onions on top of the potatoes, with a generous tossing of salt and pepper.

Put a large plate (the flattest one you can find) upside down over the top of the potatoes and turn the heat off. Let them steam for about 3 minutes, then grab each side of the plate/pan disk and flip it upside down, so the potato-cake falls down onto the plate. (This is where I almost started the grease fire. I know butter's good and all, but don't use so much you almost burn down your apartment. For the record, I've done this twice before to great success. Sans fire. I recommend those silicone pot holders - you can get a good, firm grip on the pan-plate disk with those suckers, and that makes the flipping less scary.)

Put the pan back over medium heat and melt a little bit (2T) more butter. Then carefully (this is *#$*# hard) slide the potato cake off the plate onto the pan, if possible, without breaking up the cake formation. Let it cook in the butter about 4 more minutes, until the bottom is browned and crusty as well.

When it's done, getting the cake out onto a serving platter intact is tricky. Reichl says to slide it out of the pan. This never works for me. I think you have to be Ruth Reichl (i.e. have magic powers that defy space and time) to do that. But you know what does work, is just flipping it onto another platter, like you did before. The flipping has to be FAST but not vigorous, so the potatoes all fall at once. Season with salt and pepper again, and serve in a giant cake so as to wow your guests.

For the record, here are some of the things I do differently to make this recipe a little bit more manageable. Reichl uses a cast iron skillet. I'm sure that tastes great and all, but I am not muscle-bound and flipping a cast iron skillet is damn hard. Plus, if you use a non-stick one, the potatoes WON'T STICK. That also makes the flipping easier... Also, I'm not that meticulous about peeling the potatoes. I cut them up and most of the skin comes off, which allows them to cook together into a cake, but I like a little skin... it's good for you. Also picking every last bit off is a pain in the @#)$* when you have a whole ton of small potatoes. Finally, I chop my potatoes WAY smaller than she does. She says to cut them into 1" cubes and I have no idea how you would get potato cubes that big to stay together in a cake. I'm even wondering if that's a typo it's so big...


er said...

you crack me up! especially in contrast to Chef Yum Yum, who's all "and then gentle person, you want to slice [some exotic fruit] gently and plate it delicately on a beautiful plate with [some exquisite garnish]"--and leo's like [bleep]ing Ruth Reichl...aaaarghhhh!...lots of butter...[GREASE FIRE!!!]....aarghhhh![bleeeeep!] damn good hashbrowns."

I must say, your style of cooking resonates with me (probably because I set off the smoke detector every damn time I cook) (why don't those things have "snooze" buttons, anyway?)

LEO said...

oh SERIOUSLY. If I had a cooking show it would have to be censored. The bleeping would never end!!! I like your impressions of me and Cassie. they're like caricatures of us..

er said...

I only caricaturize because I love. And the post was much more nuanced than I indicated; I think I was just projecting my own recent cooking experience that involved a lot of burning cheese.

Amica Curiae said...

those were some of the best potatoes i've ever had. and i LOVED that some were PURPLE..... YUM YUM YUM...

yes, i should be studying right now...