Friday, August 19, 2011

Potato Day!

Patate in Teche

Lo-Cal this is not.

However, as a party dish or as a “pick at it all week” thing it is fabulous. The more that you re-fry this the better and crunchier and crispier it gets.

Okay. So what the heck is it??

“Patate” means potato in Italian. Yeah, a boring potato dish; so what’s all the hullabaloo? “In teche” means in a casket. Yes, you read that right, a heart attack with a potato.

Now you’re interested.

Everybody likes bacon. Every vegetarian, no matter how vegan that they may be, loves the aroma of frying bacon; do not deny this any of you. It has been scientifically proven. In all of my years, I have only met one person, who was a staunch vegan, who did not like the aroma of cooking bacon, I chalked that up as an anomaly; however, bacon and potatoes are a perfect combination; sorry vegetarians, you’re out of luck today.

So, why “in teche”? Why “in a casket”??

What this means is smashed potatoes with bacon bits with the whole thing re-fried in bacon fat! Y’all. “Potatoes in a casket” is not a scary as it seems; the “casket” term simply applies to the fact that the cooked smashed ‘taters are re-fried to cholesterol topping goodness so that they crust over forming a “casket” around the creamy spuds within. The Italians are very creative in their descriptions.

Personally, I find this dish utterly luscious and decadent. It is great for any dinner party and can be made ahead of time and simply re-fried for service. This is not an every day of the week dish, but if you’re feeling down and in need of comfort, this is the ticket.

  • A large Non-Stick Skillet, 12-inches (30 cm.)
  • A medium-sized Sauce Pan, big enough to hold the spuds
  • A Wooden Spatula
  • A Potato Smasher or a large sturdy Fork
  • A sharp Knife

  • Pancetta or Italian Bacon, about half a pound (250 g.), in one big chunk about an inch (2.5 cm.) or the length of the first digit of your thumb (no need to be exact with this)

All right, what is this stuff?  Pancetta is the Italian version of bacon. The Italians take the same pork belly that is used the world over to make bacon, season it with pepper and spices, then roll it up and cure it. This can be eaten raw, very thinly sliced on warm toasted crusty bread (my personal favorite), thickly sliced and sautéed, or cubed and added to all sorts of dishes, even bread. Pancetta can be found in most Über-Marts these days or at the very least in good delicatessens. Some markets even carry Pancetta already cubed up for you, just look around.

Now, if you can’t find Pancetta, a fabulous substitute is a Prosciutto end. Ever wonder what they do with the leftover bit of the Prosciutto ham after making all those nice perfect slices for your sandwich? Most delicatessens that carry Prosciutto will gladly sell you the end at a steep discount all you have to do is ask.

If you’re really stuck and cannot find either Pancetta or Prosciutto, Salt Pork can also be used, but with a significant loss of flavor.

  • About four (4) medium-sized Yukon Gold Potatoes

Once again, here we are with specific ingredients. I prefer waxy potatoes for this because they give a really creamy texture for this dish. You can use plain ‘ole Russet potatoes or Red Bliss potatoes just as well, if you choose.

  • Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl

This is a critical element to this dish. So, spend the money, get the best that you can find.

  • Freshly ground Black Pepper

  • Some flat-leaf Parsley, for garnish, if you choose

Put the Potatoes in the medium-sized Sauce Pan and cover them with cold water. Place the Sauce Pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

While the spuds are getting to a boil, place the Skillet on medium heat to warm up.

Whether you’re using Pancetta, Prosciutto, or Salt Pork, chop up the bacon into small dice about the size of your pinky fingernail. Add the diced Pancetta, or whatevere type of bacon that you’re using, to the warm Skillet along with a good glug of Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl. Give everything a good stir with your trusty Wooden Spoon.

By now the spuds should be boiling, adjust the heat and let them percolate away for about thirty (30) minutes or until they are cooked through and a knife penetrates easily.

Return to the Skillet and stir the Pancetta every so often for about fifteen (15) minutes. The Pancetta should be sautéing very slowly and exuding its lovely fat. The length of time on this step is utterly subjective. Some people like their Pancetta very dark and crispy while others like it more chewy. When your Pancetta gets to your desired crispiness, turn off the heat and let it sit.

When the Potatoes are done, drain the water off and return them to the Sauce Pan to get smashed! Break out the Rum (just kidding there), break out the Potato Smasher or large sturdy Fork, if that’s all you have, and smash away. When the Potatoes have been well smashed, using your Wooden Spoon, scrape all of the crispy Pancetta and all of the drippings and grease out of the Skillet and into the smashed Potatoes. Give the Potatoes a good stir with the Smasher or Fork to incorporate.

Add about four (4) healthy glugs of Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl, honestly, it’s about a quarter-cup (60 ml.), but you’re gonna add more, so don’t worry about the amount, silly. Add a few healthy grinds of Black Pepper and give everything a good stir to incorporate. Depending on how much grease your Pancetta created and what kind of Potatoes that you used, you may need to add more Olive Oil. There really is no exact amount. I generally use between 1/4 and 1/2 a cup (60-120 ml.) per batch, but this always varies. Simply stir and taste your potatoes. They should be very creamy and taste faintly of the Olive Oil. It’s almost impossible to add too much oil.

Now, everything can be made ahead of time up to this point and placed in a bowl for later or into the fridge for later in the week. It really doesn’t matter.

To finish the dish, using your Wooden Spoon, return the Potatoes to the Skillet that had the Pancetta, or to a clean non-stick skillet if doing this later. Smooth out the smashed Potatoes into one even layer and place the Skillet over medium low heat. Go wash up the rest of the kitchen.

After about ten (10) or fifteen (15) minutes, go and check on the Potatoes. They should be steaming from the side and making squeaky noises. Using your Wooden Spoon, try to flip the layer of Potatoes over keeping as much of the crust that has formed on the bottom intact. Now this is the best part about this step, it doesn’t matter if it’s pretty. The trick here is to have some of the Potatoes crusty and some creamy. So, don’t worry about flipping everything perfectly. If you make a mess and only get a quarter of it flipped over, it really doesn't matter. After you have flipped them once, continue to sauté for another ten (10) to fifteen (15) minutes or until the other side is crispy too.

There really is no way to judge the cooking time here. If you stir and flip this more than once, who cares! All you want is to crisp up the smashed Potatoes to whatever crispiness that you like. If your Potatoes are cold from the fridge, this whole process could take as long as an hour. Just keep an eye on things to make sure that they don’t burn.

This can be a simple side dish with some finely chopped Flat Leaf Parsley on top or as a complete luncheon. I really like this as a warm base with a baby arugula and tomato salad on top.

With Mustard Greens

As I mentioned earlier, Prosciutto is a great substitute for Pancetta. I honestly prefer it. The Prosciutto gives the Potatoes a sweeter flavor and is less salty. If using Prosciutto, you may need to add a pinch of salt and a bit more oil when you smash the Potatoes. Just give it a taste and you’ll know.

A fun variation is to add some fresh or frozen (thawed) green peas to the Potatoes before sautéing. Just stir some in before you return the Potatoes to the skillet. Dried herbs are also a nifty variation; some dried Thyme or Rosemary would be fabulous, if a little over the top, the Italians are austere when it comes to their food. Some sautéed greens, like Mustard greens or Spinach also make a nice addition.

Once again, these Potatoes can be reheated over and over again. The more crispy bits the better!

 ©2011 Wait At The Bar

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