Has­sel­back pota­toes

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Has­sel­back pota­toes, named after the Stock­holm restau­rant that cre­ated them, some­times look bet­ter than they taste; too of­ten, they’re just ‘roast pota­toes with a few cuts in them’, as Ed Smith puts it in his book On the Side. Yet, done well, they com­bine the fluffi­ness of a clas­sic roast potato with the crisp­ness of the fried va­ri­ety – and the show­stop­ping beauty of a bona fide In­sta­gram sen­sa­tion.

Va­ri­ety

Not ev­ery­one thinks that has­sel­backs should be fluffy: Nigella Law­son writes that she loves them made with new pota­toes, too, a choice echoed by Smith, Ste­vie Parle and Tr­ish Hil­ferty in her book Lob­ster and Chips, which calls for “medium-sized waxy pota­toes”. Ranged against them are Martha Ste­wart and Alas­tair Lit­tle, who calls for bak­ing pota­toes, which also get an air­ing in Ju­lia Moskin’s recipe, be­cause I can find no other spuds weigh­ing a pound each.

Al­though I don’t think such huge pota­toes are the best suited for the has­sel­back treat­ment,

I do pre­fer their fluffy tex­ture to the smooth­ness of the waxy kind, which, soaked in but­ter, are al­most too rich and more like fon­dant pota­toes.

Prepa­ra­tion

Lit­tle and Hil­ferty are the only ones to bother peel­ing their pota­toes; hap­pily, leav­ing the skins on gives the dish a bet­ter flavour. Many of the recipes dic­tate slic­ing them at 5mm in­ter­vals, but Smith’s 2-3mm in­ter­vals look more im­pres­sive, and speed up the cook­ing process. Cut­ting the pota­toes on a wooden spoon and at a slight an­gle will help pre­vent you slic­ing all the way through, while rins­ing off sur­face starch, as Hil­ferty sug­gests, stops the slices glu­ing them­selves back to­gether.

The cook­ing

Moskin’s is the only recipe to pre-cook the spuds, an idea that has its mer­its: pota­toes are dense things, and many of the recipes I try wildly un­der­es­ti­mate the

time they take to bake through, so it makes sense to give them a head start. How­ever, I pre­fer Smith’s method of brais­ing them in wa­ter in the oven it­self: al­though the bot­toms might not be quite as crunchy as those roasted just in but­ter, the tops still crisp up sat­is­fac­to­rily, and there are no ques­tion­able bits of semi-raw spud in the mid­dle.

It’s es­sen­tial, as most recipes ac­knowl­edge, to keep bast­ing them through­out the cook, “in or­der for the but­ter to pen­e­trate”, as Parle puts it. The flavour­ings

But­ter is the or­der of the day here – and lots of it; you could sub­sti­tute olive oil if you’d pre­fer to keep them ve­gan. Gar­lic goes well with but­ter, of course, and also has the ben­e­fit of help­ing to wedge the slices open, al­though shal­lots, sage and bay will do the same job. If you want a more ro­bust flavour, Smith’s car­away seeds and Moskin’s smoked pa­prika both work well. Swedish restau­ra­teur Leif Man­ner­ström fin­ishes his with bread­crumbs, which adds yet more crunch, but feel free not to bother if you don’t have any to hand: they’ll still be ut­terly de­li­cious.

Per­fect has­sel­back pota­toes

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas 6. Find an oven­proof fry­ing pan or a heavy, hob-safe bak­ing tin just large enough to hold the pota­toes in a sin­gle layer.

Put each potato in the bowl of a wooden spoon and cut care­fully down, but not quite through, the flesh, main­tain­ing a slight an­gle, at roughly 2mm in­ter­vals.

Slice the gar­lic, and stuff sev­eral pieces into each potato, mak­ing sure you push them well down, so they don’t burn. Tear the bay leaves, if us­ing, into sev­eral pieces and do the same.

Mean­while, melt the but­ter in the pan or tin over a medium heat un­til it’s sizzling. Put in the pota­toes one by one, and care­fully turn them in the but­ter to coat well, then pour in enough cold wa­ter to come half­way up the sides of the pota­toes.

Bring to a boil, then re­move from the hob and put in the oven to roast for an hour and 30 min­utes, bast­ing ev­ery 15 min­utes. Scat­ter with the bread­crumbs, if us­ing, for the fi­nal 15 min­utes of cook­ing, at which point you can add any re­main­ing gar­lic to the pan as well. Serve hot.

Coat each potato in melted but­ter, then ar­range them in a sin­gle layer and add wa­ter to come half­way up the spuds Bring to a boil on the hob, then roast for 90 min­utes, bast­ing of­ten, for a crisp, but­tery treat

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