By: Noah Young, Production Manager
When I started making these recipes for College Students I was a far worse cook. Weeks prior to the first print that my article was published in, I had created a very expensive pile of molten cheese, oil, and mushy yet still raw potatoes. It was under-salted and too oily. My friend and I had taken it upon ourselves to make some food rather than getting take out. We didn’t use a recipe, just our gut instincts. It was those same guts who suffered the consequences of the inedible result of this lack of direction.
Why had this meal gone so awry? What should we have done? I have been looking to answer these questions for two years now. I have slowly been accumulating answers as my understanding of how food works. I am by no means finished, but I haven’t stopped thinking about this blunder and trying to apply what I learned to remedy my cooking in the future.
Why had I created a molten pile of slowly cooling cheese and hard potatoes? The key factor here is how hot the potatoes were able to get. Potatoes are full of water. Water can only get to 212 degrees Fahrenheit before it leaves as steam. As a result of the potato’s nature, it is very difficult to get crispy potatoes if you don’t know what you are doing.
Several methods can be employed to get rid of excess water.
Salt. Salt sucks water out of things by osmosis, by making a higher concentration of salt outside of the cell, you force the cells to pass water out of their cell membranes, to try to equalize the two sides. So by soaking potatoes in salty water, you don’t just get well-seasoned potatoes, but they start to lose water. Pat them down with a towel after, of course.
Thinner potato slices. This can be achieved either with a knife or with the coarse side of a cheese grater (by grating the potatoes), you can make the potatoes into something very crispy indeed. These make for nice hashbrowns. Making less volume inside of the potato, there is less water to lose while becoming crispy.
Frying them twice. Restaurants do this. The first fry gets rid of the water, the second makes it crispy. Allow them time to rest in between fries.
Baking them. For a while. When making potatoes, always assume that they and carrots will take the longest to bake. You can compensate for this by putting them in early and delaying the rest of their veggie or meat friends you are preparing for the meal. Steaming off their water all the way.
Heat control is important to anything you do in the kitchen. This potato lesson can be extended to the ability to make an educated guess for how much heat and for how long. Once you get more experience cooking.
What should have we done to make the potato lump edible? We wanted it to be accompanied by eggs and toast, so it was a breakfast potato cheese lump. If I had a mulligan, I would have decided to make a basic hash brown.
What I should have done: Basic Hash Browns.
First, take some potatoes. No need to peel it. And grate it into a medium mixing bowl. Fill it with water and some salt. Let it sit for a few minutes, maybe while you put on some bacon to cook it in the grease.
Remove the water, and place the potatoes in the center of a durable towel. Twist the towel until it wrings out the potatoes’ water. Squeeze the towel until you think most of the excess water has been wrung out.
Form the potato shreds into a potato patty of the size you want, and place them into a modest layer of oil in a hot pan. Ideally cast iron, as the heat held by the iron prevents the oil from cooling down too much.
Flip once golden on one side. Fry until crispy.
Serve with eggs, toast, bacon, and coffee if you want to feel like you are in a diner.
Congratulations. You have an understanding of water’s role in temperature regulation. Doesn’t it taste good?