by Lauren Chattman
Cheapskate that I am, I always have an eye out for bulk bargains. Usually, this means dragging home 12-packs of paper towels from B.J.’s in Riverhead. But in October it means dragging home 5- and 10-pound bags of local potatoes from Falkowski’s on Scuttlehole Road. For the low, low price of 55 cents a pound, I am now the proud owner of 25 pounds of Russet, Yukon Gold, and Red Bliss spuds.
Storing the paper towels is easy. They go right into the basement, on a shelf next to the gallon bottles of Windex. Is that the right place for the potatoes, too? According to a University of Idaho study on the subject, you can store potatoes on your kitchen countertop or in the refrigerator if you are going to eat them within a few days. But for long-term usability, the right storage conditions are crucial. Potatoes are surprisingly temperamental. If the air is too warm, they will sprout. If it is too cold, they will turn brown when cooked. An overly dry environment will cause potatoes to shrivel. Light will turn them green.
To preserve freshness, find a spot with conditions similar to the university’s own Potato Storage Facility, which maintains a temperature of 45 degrees and 95 percent relative humidity. Put your potatoes in a cool, dark, entryway, attic, basement, or garage insulated against freezing. An extra refrigerator set a few degrees higher than normal will also do.
With my potatoes stored safely in a ventilated bin in the basement, I thought about how to cook some of them immediately. After all, there is nothing like a freshly harvested East End potato. Different varieties respond to different preparations. Starchy, low-moisture Russets bake well and become fluffy when mashed. Medium-starch Yukon Golds develop buttery flavor and crackling skin when roasted. Red Bliss potatoes, the lowest in starch, keep their shape when boiled or steamed and are perfect for potato salads.
Red Bliss potatoes, as it turns out, are also delicious when smashed. And I don’t mean when you’ve had too many vodka martinis while waiting for them to cook. I mean that they are great when steamed and then flattened with a potato masher and then crisped on both sides in a hot skillet. Smashed potatoes are irresistible because they are creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside. In other words, they are able to satisfy cravings for mashed and fried potatoes at the same time. Smashed potatoes, especially freshly harvested East End smashed potatoes, are very good with just olive oil, salt and pepper. But I couldn’t resist adding flavor to mine in the form of onions, garlic, and spices. A little lemon zest and some chopped fresh cilantro brightened up the dish just before serving.
Smashed Potatoes with Mustard Seeds
?Serves 4??Be sure to use a large skillet (nonstick is best) that will give the potatoes enough room to cook in one layer after they’ve been smashed. Feel free to vary the seasonings and spices to taste. Garlic and chopped rosemary make a good alternative. Onions and smoked paprika are also tasty. Low-starch potatoes are essential here. Most varieties of red and yellow potatoes fall into this category. Avoid russets (sometimes called Idaho potatoes no matter where they’re grown), which fall apart easily when cooked and are better for baking and mashing.
2 pounds small red potatoes
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon mustard seeds, lightly crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly crushed with a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1. Steam the potatoes in a large steamer rack set over boiling water, covered, until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes.?2. While the potatoes are steaming, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, onion, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the potatoes and stir (they should fit comfortably in one layer, with room to expand).
3. Smash each potato with a masher, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until crisp on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook until the second side is crisp, another 2 minutes. Stir in lemon zest and cilantro and serve immediately.