KC 116 - Crispy Parmesan Potatoes

Why Hello There, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, the cooking blog and cultural touchstone for all the hip young chefs in YOUR AREA. I’m your Totally-Real-Webcam-Man, Jon O’Guin, and today’s post is…tricky.

Not in terms of creating the meal itself, though there are some great blunders and technical tricks to make it work. No, today’s tricky because, despite making the dish, I don’t really have an “in” for it. Or, rather, every conceivable inroad I can think of would be better suited for something else. This is a recipe for potatoes, using Parmesan cheese, and an unusual culinary trick called “frico”. And I’ve done bits about all of those things before. So, what do I do? Repeat myself? Try to justify a complete history and Origin of the word “Parmesan”? I…don’t know. The only thing that initially comes to mind is that I really didn’t explain Frico all that well the first time it came up, so let’s tackle that, and…hopefully find a path forward from there.  

 

I Got Called “Freak-o” a Lot When I Visited Italy.

Well, technically it was New Jersey's Little Italy, but I assume the culture is the same. So, the last time we talked about frico, it was on the outside of a Grilled Cheese Sandwich, to give us a Seventh Cheese. But that’s not it’s only use. And really, I kind of failed to explain what exactly WAS going on. So let’s fix that.

‘Frico’ actually refers to two different dishes, but the version I’m referring to is also known as ‘parmesan tuile’ and ‘parmesan crisp’. It is, in essence, a “chip” formed by melting and hardening Parmesan cheese.

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A process basically as easy as it sounds. "Put shredded cheese in hot oven for a while" 

It works by…okay, I don’t really know how it works. Or, rather, I don’t know the fancy science words for it. The basics are easy: cheese melts, and if you keep applying heat to it, the melted cheese will lose moisture and harden. When handled the right way, this can be manipulated to do cool things, because the cheese retains ductility for a couple minutes as it cools. (Alright, I know ONE fancy science word for it.) So you can like, make a bowl out of cheese crisp, or cheese-crisp taco shells. You can also, and this used to be a somewhat underrated option, make cheese crisps. And eat them.

Yeah, an interesting part of the whole cheese crisp phenomenon is that, recently, they just kind of exploded as a commercial snack option, probably due to the market power of those following low-carb, high-fat diets like paleo or keto. In 2015, Parmesan and Cheddar crisps started being sold at Costco under the Whisps brand-name, and I’m pretty sure I bought a bag shortly after they debuted, as I thought they’d been around longer than that. (Also, as a side note, it’s a little trickier than I think is strictly necessary to learn that info: Whisps’ website doesn’t have an “about us” section, so I had to research their parent company, Cello Cheese…who ALSO don’t have any form of corporate history listed. Luckily, I discovered they’re a subsidiary of Schuman Cheeses, who DO have an “about us” section, revealing the company is from New Jersey, and is a fourth generation family business. Not at all worrying, given the context.)

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Secretive East Coast Family Businesses have historically been very legitimate and respectable enterprises. 

Anyhow. “Frico” means “cheese crisp”, and they’re pretty good. As such, today’s recipe seeks to harness that power to make some satisfying sides by mixing the crispy cheese with potatoes! Which is kind of humorous, from a food history point of view. See, the other form of frico I mentioned, three paragraphs back? It’s a dish made by mixing diced or shredded potatoes with cheese and frying/baking them into a wafer. It was invented to use up cheese rinds into something that could add protein and fat to soups or stews.  It’s just funny that a dish that was originally cheese and potatoes became just cheese, and then someone said “you know what this would be great with? Potatoes!”  It’s like poetry, it’s so that they rhyme.

 

Things Get…Saucy

Actually making this dish was something of a hassle, truth be told. For a lot of dumb reasons. I was making this back in early February. Yes, surprise surprise, I finally got ahead of myself on recipes! It’s not a perfect system, of course: we only finished votes for what foods to cook for this May’s theme last week, so I’ve got to crank all of those out in the next few weeks, but now I have resources to tap into when I need them. Though not as many as I’d like, as I’m still a bumbling oaf who forgot to take the last pictures in several instances, meaning I have all the content for a post, but with no pay-off. And getting all you good folks all worked up without a money shot doesn’t quite sit right with me. 

Anyway, I had planned to actually make the potatoes the same evening as the Zeppole we covered 2 weeks ago. The plan had been “parmesan potatoes, ravioli lasagna, and zeppole”, but we scrapped that plan because of a simple and stupid error: see, the lasagna needed to bake for about 75 minutes, and the potatoes roast for around 20 minutes. And my family only has one oven. So either I make the potatoes, and let them sit out for an hour, or I make the lasagna, and then wait 20 minutes before I can serve dinner. Compounding this was the fact that Nate and I were rehearsing for a play, and we decided to just scrap the potatoes until later. However, I WAS able to make the dipping sauce for them!

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This is the ideal diping sauce. You may not like it, but this is what peak delicious looks like. 

The recipe we’re using comes from America’s Test Kitchen, and they serve the potatoes with a sour-cream based sauce mixed with chives and rosemary. Pretty standard flavors, of course. So I just popped the sauce in the fridge for when we made the potatoes in the next couple days.

Then, as is so often the case, things went wrong. I can’t tell you exactly what, but I can tell you the result: we didn’t get around to making the potatoes until…eight days later. At which point we encountered a problem. My mother has a particular opinion of how food in the refrigerator works: If it’s touched air, it gets one week. The instant you open a container, the food inside has one whole week, and then it goes in the trash.  The astute among you will note that we are neither ancient Etruscans nor Celts, and therefore eight days is longer than a week. (Small history nerd side-note: Technically, the Celts had a Nine-Night-Week, not an Eight-Day-Week, as the Celtic Calendar is the first I’ve heard of that counted a “day” as starting at sun-SET instead of rise.)

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Facts made all the more interesting when you remember that it was a British band that popularized the songs "A Hard Day's Night", and "Eight Days A Week." 

As such, my mother was adamant the sauce be cast into the fire, Isildur, and while I longed to look down and whisper “No” and thereby finally unite The worlds of Middle-Earth and the Watchmen, the rosemary in the sauce had turned a kind of sullen purple color, so I said “fine” and started dicing chives for a new batch. “Lucky thing,” I blithely said, unwittingly walking straight into Fate’s grasping fingers, “there’s just enough of these babies left for another batch.”

Now, as was recently pointed out to me by an Emergency Room doctor, I’m a pretty big guy who’s certainly carrying some more weight on him than is strictly necessary. They’re legitimate points, if difficult to take from a man stuttering to explain my medical issue like I’d just crushed his science fair project and only hope of impressing his love interest.  I bring this up to take brief, petty vengeance on a doctor for stating facts I didn’t like, and because a few moments later, something fell in the kitchen, and in turning abruptly to try and catch it, I cast all the diced chives onto the floor.

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Have you tried the new Instagram filter "Shaking With Rage and Grief"? 

This flustered me. Not the accidentally destroying the chives, that’s par for the Stooge-ian course in our kitchen. No, what really bothered me was that I gave such a blindly obvious set-up line for disaster! I mean, I’m a WRITER! I should definitely know that saying things like that is an open invitation for your day to get ruined. Luckily, my family’s garden has had one incredibly sturdy survivor over the year since we planted it, and it’s the chives. It’s impressive because once the chickens learned they didn’t want to eat it, they sought to cast it out of the garden, and maintain their dominance over the 3’ by 5’ stretch of fertile land, like some sort of tiny Avian Babylonian warlords.Seriously, they must have dug a hole at least five inches deep next to the plant to try and knock it over. Luckily, the chive roots ran deep, and it endured.

So I had Nate pop outside and snip off a bundle of it for the sauce. Meanwhile I diced the new batch of rosemary, still flustered. Because I was flustered, I didn’t really look at what I was doing. Which is why I put in two teaspoons of rosemary into it, instead of the actually requested, ONE HALF TEASPOON. There I go, quadrupling values again.

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It's actually a little weird. I'd totally get it if I made a half TABLESPOON instead of half-teaspoon. But confusing 1/2 and 2 tsps is a new trick for my very good brain. 

 

Putting the “Perfect” In “Potatoes”. Which is hard, because there’s no room for an F there.

My saucy shame temporarily completed, I returned to the potatoes to complete their portion of cooking. The recipe calls for a fair bit of cornstarch, which is possibly my least favorite ingredient to work with, as the smooth powder glides and catches in a way that is simply unnerving to touch. I’ve always associated it with the sound of Styrofoam rubbing: there’s an unnatural element that really unsettles me.

Anyway, despite my distaste for it, it’s great at forming thin, crisp crusts on fried foods. It’s also great at several other tasks, but that’s the one that’s relevant for today.  Today’s recipe tosses the sliced potatoes in cornstarch before roasting them, allowing the exterior of the potato to ‘set’ and provide a firm base for the second part, where you toss cubed parmesan, cornstarch, and...two teaspoons of minced rosemary. (AHA! I knew there was a reason I made so much!) into a food processor and blend that sucker up.

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That's right, my dudes. Y'all about to get BLITZED!

Dust the potatoes and baking sheet with the Cheese-starch mixture, and then immediately flip the dusted potatoes over. By putting the cheese under the potatoes, the pressure of the slices will counteract the increased moisture.  This process is a little trickier than you think, and honestly I don’t know that the advice the ATK gives people. THEY say to use two forks to flip the potatoes. I think, if you have it, some tongs are a better tool for flipping them all.

Then you roast them for several minutes, and once roasted comes the hardest part: you gotta let it all cool. The potatoes need to sit on a rack for like, 10-15 minutes to cool down, and let the cheese pop off the sheet. Once it’s done so, you got creamy slices of potatoes, with one side covered in a crispy sheet of cheese.

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Ignore the bread sticking in on the top corner. I literally do not remember what we decided to eat these with. Pasta and Garlic Bread, maybe? 

How are they? They’re potato slices with crisp cheese. They’re great. The sauce is fine, but the potatoes are rad as geck. That was supposed to be ‘heck’, but I’m not one to step back from accidental greatness. Rad as Geck is here to stay, until I completely forget about it in a week. But seriously, these potatoes are pretty easy to make, pretty great to eat, and something something about health. Try them in your home/apartment/Cardboard box outfitted with oven and food processor.

Today’s post is brought to you in part by Tequila. Tequila: Bad Decisions Don’t Make themselves. The rest of the support comes from Patreon, where people pay money to keep the site going. This next month is going to be chock full of culinary mash-ups vote on by our Patreon supporters. So if you’d like a voice in what we do next, support the site through Patreon. It’s simple, cheap, and sure to please. Like Jon himself. (Warning: Jon is none of those things. He’s complicated, a little bougie, and often infuriating.) If you don’t want to spend your hard-earned ducats on a madman’s ramblings about Bloody Marys, you’re finally becoming a crafty consumer! Instead, invite your friends to like us on Facebook, and use that emotional leverage to get Jon to do what you want for Free!

THURSDAY: GOTENKS IS IN THE MOTHA-FUCKIN HOUSE, AS WE TALK CULINARY FUSION TO KICK OFF MASH-UP MONTH.

MONDAY:  IN HONOR OF MOTHER’S DAY, THE FIRST FULL WEEK OF MASH-UP MAY IS DEDICATED TO BLOODY MARYS. SO JOIN US FOR BLOODY MARY PENNE ALLA VODKA. (“PENNE ALLA BLOODY MARY” DIDN’T TEST AS WELL WITH OUR FOCUS GROUP OF “JUST JON, SAYING WORDS ALOUD TO HIMSELF.”)

 

RECIPE

Crispy Parmesan Potatoes with Chive Dip

Serves 6 – 8

 

Ingredients

                Chive Sour Cream Dip

1 cup sour cream, duh,

¼ cup minced fresh chives

½ tsp minced fresh rosemary.  Or more. Whatever.

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

½ tsp onion powder

½ tsp garlic powder

 

                Crispy Parm Potatoes

2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes, unpeeled

4 tsps cornstarch, divided in two equal portions

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 oz Parmesan cheese, cut into 1” chunks

½ tsp ground black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh minced rosemary

 

Preparation

1.       Make the sour cream dip by just mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl, and refrigerating for 30 minutes to let the flavors meld. While it’s melding, start prepping everything for the roasting. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees, and spray a rimmed baking sheet with a LOT of cooking spray. Put your oven rack in the lower-middle position, preferably before you start heating the oven.

2.       Cut your potatoes into ½” thick slices. The original recipe calls for cutting them lengthwise, and I have no idea if that matters. Toss your potatoes with half the cornstarch, and salt and pepper, until everything’s nicely coated and you can’t see the cornstarch anymore. Add the olive oil, and toss some more.

3.       Lay the well-tossed slices in a single layer on the baking sheet, and cook for 20 minutes, until golden browned on the top. While browning, put the rest of the ingredients in a food processor, and blend together for 1 minute, until finely ground.

4.       When the potatoes are browned, take the baking sheet out, and sprinkle the Parmesan-starch mixture over the potatoes and pan liberally. Just, everywhere. Until all the cheese is gone. Press the cheese down onto the potatoes slices with a spoon or spatula, and flip the potatoes cheese-side down.

5.       Roast at 500 degrees for 5-7 minutes, until Cheese is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, before scraping up potatoes and cheese flakes, and serving with the sauce.