Saturday, June 13, 2009

Still Life with Potatoes

It seems that discoveries can occur even in the lost hours of the night when the mind is a smooth slippery sea creature unencumbered by the weight of reason and rule. Tucked in and relieved of the tumble of my dark hour vigil, I succumb to the charm of infomercials; easy companionship which in the buoyancy of tide becomes pertinent, even fascinating, and for those inclined towards the affable, have simplistically happy endings. Not only does the girl get the boy, but she rocks herself to flatter abs, makes a million bucks, and brown roasts a frozen turkey in an hour or two. With little next to none to hold me down, my subliminal desires for the effortless and aerated foamed dairy products take over and I’m duly impressed by ease connected to speed. Surely the gist of life could be solved, hints the announcer in my head handling the once compact Magic Bullet now replete with multi functioning attachment blades. On screen a husband holds a pie plate in front of the shoot catcher style; the wife pummels a whole cored apple through the opening after which apple rings are violently spit onto the plate, my nocturnal oasis abruptly disrupted. Within 3 seconds, the sugar and spice content s of a ramekin are ceremoniously dumped upon the disheveled heap and applause erupts forth for the doppelganger pie complete in 5 minutes minus. Fully lashed to my senses, I find myself awake and offended by the brutish mess passed off as masterpiece. Are we so stretched for time that simple tasks must be whittled down to unrecognizable form and each minute accounted for? Only strictest opprobrium now- gob smacked I am no longer. On the flip side of nighttime tutorials I get back to the serious business of herbs and forgotten hypocrisy. Last summer before I could think sensibly, I acquired a sizeable amount of scented greenery in generous installments. Initially I was enthralled with the possibilities, as life tender and fresh rising out of the earth tends to elicit. Tarragon, Sage, Mint, and Rosemary: redolent, intoxicating finery born to embellish life and romance victuals. Admittedly before too long, it is true; the regal bounty became an unspoken burden. While bright clusters of basil demand to be transformed into a royal emulsion, other aromatics may certainly be used with satisfactory results. Under self imposed demand to keep up with supply, I donned a rather unfortunate production house mentality and scrap heaped the herbs into an overzealous processing bowl: hoarding oil, skimping on the nuts and sacrilegious- sometimes even forgoing the cheese. Dark times indeed, my pesto more akin to mortar of the daub and wattle days than a sumptuous perfume built for pleasure. Could I be blamed further that in true poverty mindset, the miserable sludge went straight to the freezer for future humorless night, long and cold?

Memory of the frozen remains is square punishment and as I am of the pedantic sort, it is finger wagging reminder to sit quietly in the lap of abundance and allow the fullness of the moment to reveal itself rather than mine away at time until there is nothing left to hold. Wearing my full mantle of shame, I am now contrite and figure some lavish penance is needed to rectify the wrong.

The outline is clear: focused simplicity, meditative and slow, banning any impulse to cut corners. The herbs once again are plentiful but not deserving of any pre-emptive strikes this time around. After all they are ancient paean to both bounty and beauty revered by Gods and mortals alike. They are frisky agents of flavor and blooming bouquet to the senses needing ballast that can only be found in the humble potato of behind-the-scenes kitchen duty.

The potato, earthy fellow needs no introduction to any. Starchy and full figured it is the quintessential food to sate the most basic hunger. But I confess my own has existed on the opposite end of the spectrum where wants are located. They have the luxury of being both transient and susceptible to the winds of suggestion. Therefore subterranean tubers are rarely on my radar except when drunk on oil when the food transforms from the staunch practical to the magnificently fabulous.

This fittingly brings us to technique. While it is a no brainer, this is a method I’ve avoided for the quantity of oil used and for the unhurried nature of the process. In short it is perfect for my reparations. I’ve decided that the cure to continuous scuttling about and throwing down sloppy ingredients in perpetual fear of the dwindling sands of time is to good naturedly slow sear potatoes to crisp crust perfection. No fussy ingredients or fancy procedure needed. Everything else is certain distraction.
Smallish thin skinned potatoes are needed an inch and a quarter is nice. Into a pot of low boiling salted water they go. Keep an eye on them as they need to be just pierceable but not so well done as to become mushy. Rinse quickly under cold water and pat dry. Now the fun part- place a single brave spud upon a flat surface and gently lean upon it with the steady unsqueamish heel of your palm. The skins will heave before splitting and some interior flesh displayed but this is perfectly acceptable and part of the charm. We’re going for a smashed patty that is approximately half an inch thick, much thinner and one is in danger of losing circular integrity. A nicely weighted shallow fry pan is needed, ample the better. After being heated on medium high and olive oil is poured in, wait until the surface shimmers. Just how much oil is needed I suppose is open to interpretation. Bear in mind, this is a dish to properly fix one of miserly pinched up ways. For reference however, I used a lavish skim but not a submersion. Young sage leaves can now be tossed in until they shrink up into friable crisp. Quickly remove and set aside for future garnish. The potato pucks are now ready for their debut but not before lowering the temperature to below medium. The rounds cook for almost 30 minutes on each side, therefore handle the fire appropriately to ensure a beautifully browned patina and hearty crust. It is important to note that Trust is just as much an ingredient in this affair as Patience or Potato. Because it dawned on me that the Magic Bullet really preys upon our fear of not enough. And in life opposites seem to be truer; the easy is the harder way and the too-quick is ultimately wasted effort. With this, I beg you to allow the now flattened bottoms of the pommes de terre to sit undisturbed like the wise silent teachers they are. Sneak a peek somewhere around 20 minutes when unbearably good scents warm and rustic waft forth. If you sigh audibly and feel your heart quickening in your chest, these beauties are getting close. The only other advice to dispense is that a golden color is not enough, in fact that alone is too cosmetic. You are looking for a mouthful that will be sure to contain both crunch and chew, where the darkened caramelized exterior is distinct from the tender interior portion. At this point and only then, should they be flipped so that the other faces can become burnished bronze too. Extra movement in this symphony of simplicity is a bare minimum with a generous flourish of coarse salt and then a few minutes before completion, a festoon of chopped herbs.

I’ve been hearing folks recently refute the reasonability of “multi-tasking”. I used to actually pride myself on this skill before noticing its inherent deficiencies. Reformed I’m throwing away all Magic Bullets, beans, and pills for something true like zaftig frenchified peasant food eaten alongside sautéed baby radish greens. A simple still life with a few ingredients steeped in old fashioned values has me slowed down to a more opulent way of being. Live well, banish the fear of oil, and eat more potatoes!

10 comments:

Vivian said...

Oh my, what tender, lovingly-crafted, yet explicit verbiage to attach to the processing of a humble spud...a delight to read. I am now compelled to smash a few precious potato nuggets myself. Thank you so much.

Anh said...

Yay for potatoes and sage! Just reading about them make me hungry (It’s lunch time here mind you). You know, I can stop eating all sweets but potatoes and other carbs, I just cannot give up.

Lucy said...

Couldn't agree more. Distorted infomercial-madness in the wee hours, for me, leads to a strange sort of self-loathing but a squashed, golden potato - what a marvellous antidote that would (and will) be!

No fear of oil in this kitchen. I could drink the stuff. Glad you are using your herbs (and verbs) so nicely. (Glorious post, my friend!)

Anonymous said...

Vivian- the girls would love them, they look like mini burgers actually!

Anh- I'm late to the love of sage,I used to be intimidated by its dusty assertive flavor, now I quite like it.

Lucy- I found that I was getting too involved in the mini plots of the infomercial, especially weight loss ones. I find it quite touching when people finally achieve their goals...but that MB one set me straight! Yay to oil, still must try the avocado/hazelnut ones.

Gattina said...

Calli, the way you described making this potato dish sounds like a music to ear! I'd feel the rythem without any clumsy fuss :)
Sage is one of my favorite herbs... its 'hair' :D reminds me dusts of snow... it taste is absolutely fantastic after deep-fried! Love how you assemble the whole dish, simply is the best.
(ps... sorry i have been so late in reply your e-mail as I wasn't feeling so well last week. Will catch up with you later *dos besos*)

Michael said...

Awesome! Nice article.. I could not agree more..

Chelsea said...

Hello -

What a lovely meditation. You've reminded me of the simple pleasure of 'petting' my herbs :) It's a joy just to be in their presence, let alone consume them...

However I currently can't think of a better way to eat them than with those crusty palm-flattened potatoes either...

So glad to have discovered your blog!

racheleats said...

I've just had a week of potatoes and sage but not quite like this, your magical description of your golden palm squashed patties may well see a week lurching into 2.

Bill Medifast said...

Wow! I have never seen someone express food so beautifully. Makes the mouth and mind both drool. Thanks for this!

Pamela said...

Thanks for the great post.