Choosing Sides

     I prefer not to use this space for controversial matters.  There are plenty of other blogs devoted to spreading division and discontent.  I’m just here to toss around a few factoids and have some fun and maybe sell some postcards.

     But one of my coolest and most loyal readers has asked me for an extension of my blog on hash brown potatoes.  (This is also not a food blog, by the way.  I’ve mentioned this before.)  He wanted to know a little more about the potatoes he gets at his favorite dinner.  He asks for fried potatoes, and gets what they call American Fries.  He has also, in his pursuit of fried potatoes, been served Cottage Fries and Home Fries, and wondered what gives.

     (He also causes conniptions by declining offers of ketchup/catsup or  hot sauce for his potatoes, preferring a sprinkling of black pepper.  We can get into condiments for potatoes and.or fried eggs some other time when things are too peaceful round here.)

     It was before my time, but my parents’ first fight after marriage was about the making of fried potatoes, that is, whose mother made them correctly.  My father’s preference won out, and I didn’t think much of it until I was cooking for my mother’s father one day and made fried potatoes.  These caused a stare of amazement, upon which my grandfather said, “Oh!  Potato chips!” and downed them with apparent, though possibly feigned, gusto.  So this is something matters.

     So let us consider our terms, and explore the differences.  Pan-fried Potatoes is a general name given to any potato fried in a pan.  It is the custom nowadays to BAKE your fried potatoes, which confuses a twentieth century soul like mine.  (“Frying” is a technical term referring to cooking something in added fat or oil.  You do not, thus, technically FRY bacon: you pan-roast it, because unless you have an unusual recipe, you do not add any fat to the pan before you cook your bacon.)

     Back to potatoes.  Cottage Fries are big and round, cross sections of whole potatoes, and apparently, these days, most often roasted.  They look to be a quarter to a half inch thick, and, if your potatoes are fat enough, four or five of these are a healthy serving.

     American Fries, as proposed by online chefs. are evenly divided between something like Cottage Fries and something like Steak Fries, which are another matter.  I see a number of recipes which make the round ones of leftover boiled potatoes, but others are made from fresh potatoes.

     Home Fries are LIKE American fries but are always round or cubed, and much more often made with leftover boiled potatoes, or potatoes you have boiled just for this purpose (I think fresh potatoes give you a crisper fry, myself. But we’ll get to my mother’s recipe presently.)

     House Fries is a lesser used term for Home Fries.

     Steak Fries are almost always wedge shaped, made by cutting a whole potato the long way into six or eight wedges.  The skin is often left on (we can get into THAT subject some other time, tool; ho with your heart) and very frequently baked in the oven.  These tend to invite the most creative seasoning, and one finds all manner of Worcestershire, Tabasco, Sriracha, and other variations.

     Bistro fries are basically Steak Fries, although they are often thinner wedges.

     I am sure I am leaving out a few synonyms, but I would like to get to the meat of the potato now.  I admit I did not spend days hunting down fried potato recipes, but I must state that nowhere did I find a recipe or a picture file dealing with my mother’s fried potatoes, which are, by extension, my father’s mother’s fried potatoes.  I do not, as mentioned hereintofore, wish to cause trouble.  But in the name of preservation, at least, this is how my mother taught me to fry potatoes.

     Take the square cast iron frying pan.  (We did not sue the word skillet in my house: local preferences.)  Heat up enough bacon grease in this to coat the bottom of the pan generously.  Too much oil will make your potatoes greasy, which is an abomination.  (We kept leftover bacon grease in a cup in the fridge.  YOU will have to figure out what to do for yourself.  You may use other oils.  Just don’t write and tell me about it.  I don’t care.)

     Peel a large potato, one with a good, firm grip on life.  If it is a large potato, quarter it.  We do not intend to turn these slices individually, so large round slices will NOT stay intact through the process.  Slice said potato sections.  An eight of an inch thickness is generous.  Being able to see the edge of the knife blade through the potato is a little thin.  But we do NOT want the slices to be uniform.  That is boring.

     You can do all of this, by the way, with leftover boiled potatoes, though the slices will need to be thicker so they’ll hold together, and the result will have a different texture.

     I hope you did most of the slicing while the grease was heating in the pan, so you don’t have smoke or the fire department or anything distracting while you cook.  Put the sliced potatoes into the hot grease.  If the layer is the right depth, you will have minimum spattering.  Let the potatoes fry.  Turn regularly with that instrument you usually use for flipping fried eggs.  The thinner slices will become crisp right across, while the thicker ones will stay mildly meaty in the middle.  If the edges are getting black, you’ve gone too far.

     Turn out the potatoes into a bowl lined with a paper towel: if you have done this correctly, a little grease will come with the potatoes to be soaked up by the towel.  Sprinkle with salt (and pepper or onion salt or garlic powder, but don’t tell my mother.)  Serve while hot.  What you should have is a bunch of quarter to half dollar sized slices not quite as crisp and thin as potato chips.  The result goes with meat, fried eggs, warm sandwiches, what have you.

     No, don’t…okay, if you want ketchup or gravy on them, do your own thing.  My mother gave up on you when you put the black pepper on.

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