I had an accidental five-star day last Monday. The kind of day that can only happen when you don’t plan a thing. The kind that deepens laugh lines. The kind that often occurs on a weekday afternoon for no good reason.
It started out with pho soup in Chinatown. Then Dave and I bowled a few rounds and drank enough Sam Adams drafts to get a little giggly. (To be clear: I got a little giggly. Dave would not want me to suggest he is the giggling kind.)
I also bought new gray and yellow wedges that were alleged [by a certain non-giggler] to only be appropriate to wear to a '70s key party. I still advocate the shoes are dyn-o-mite.
We went home, opened a bottle of cinsault, and ate Mt. Tam triple cream on a baguette. And I got to work on dinner.
Whole chicken was stuffed with wedges of orange citrus. Chunks of potatoes were tossed in duck fat. A tamarind glaze thickened on the stovetop. And we listened to Bill Cosby: Himself, while the food did its thing in the oven. I laughed. He laughed. Particularly during Bill’s bit on chocolate cake-for-breakfast.
Bill Cosby: [when his wife sees he has given the kids cake for breakfast]
“I’ve always heard about people ‘having a conniption’ but I’d never seen one. You don’t want to see ‘em. My wife’s face … split. The skin and hair split and came off of her face so there was nothing except the skull. And orange light came out of her hair and there was glitter all around. And fire shot from her eye sockets and began to burn my stomach and she said, ‘WHERE DID THEY GET CHOCOLATE CAKE FROM?’ And I said, ‘They asked for it!’ And the children who had been singing praises to me … lied on me … and said, ‘Uh-uh!’ ‘We asked for eggs and milk … and DAD MADE US EAT THIS!’ And my wife sent me to my room … which is where I wanted to go in the first place.”
Which brings me to these potatoes. You see, they have caramel on them. Yes. Sugar. Burnt and drizzled. With prunes (prunes!) The potatoes are crisped—pretty much slow fried for an hour—in duck fat.
And you’d think this would make them a wholly inappropriate mealtime component. All that fat and sugar. But they’re not. They’re salty-sweet. Addictive. Wonderful with sticky tamarind chicken. And with Billy Cosby, for dinner, on a five-star day.
Caramel Potatoes Crisped in Duck Fat with Prunes
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
2¼ pounds russet potatoes
½ cup duck fat
5 ounces pitted prunes
scant ½ cup sugar
3½ tbsp ice water
½ tsp sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste
Set the oven at 475 degrees. Peel the potatoes and cut them into pieces about 1½ inch squared. Rinse them under cold water and then place them in a large pot filled with cold water. Bring the potatoes to a boil and then simmer them for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and then shake them in a colander to rough up their edges a bit and drain off the excess water.
In a rimmed baking sheet or sheet pan, scoop in the duck fat and heat it up in the oven until it just starts to smoke (5 to 8 minutes). Carefully take the pan out of the oven and gently toss in the potatoes. Place the pan back in the oven (on the highest rack) and cook the potatoes for 50 to 65 minutes, or until they are golden and have turned crunchy; during the cooking, turn the potatoes occasionally with a spatula to ensure even coloring.
When the potatoes look just about ready (this was at about the 50 minute mark for me), take out the sheet pan and—if the potatoes still contain a good deal of fat—carefully tip the pan to remove the excess (I did not have to do this: there was barely any fat left sitting in the pan). Add ½ tsp of salt and the prunes, toss gently, and return the potatoes to the oven for about 5 more minutes.
During this time, make the caramel by placing the sugar in a medium saucepan over low heat. Without stirring, cook the sugar until it turns into a liquid and becomes a rich caramel color (you can swirl the pan occasionally, if needed, if the sugar isn’t caramelizing evenly). Remove the pan from the heat at once and quickly pour in the ice water. (Be careful it doesn’t spatter on you: don’t hold the pan too close). (You’ll want to have the ice water ready, so place some ice cubes in water while you heat the sugar and keep a measuring spoon nearby.) Immediately return the pan to the heat and whisk to dissolve any sugar clumps.
Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss them with the caramel, and taste to add more salt, as needed. Serve at once.
Makes 4-5 cups
-These potatoes will be crispy and not overly sweet despite the caramel. They are lovely. Perfect for a roasted beast of any sort.
-I had a few stubborn lumps of sugar that just wouldn’t dissolve, so I strained them out. Take care not to let the caramel thicken too much or it will become hard to toss the potatoes in it. The whole caramel process happens rather quickly.
-Leftovers can be reheated in a microwave (or I assume an oven) and though they won’t be quite as crispy, they’ll still be good.
-If you don’t have russet potatoes be sure to use another floury potato type to get the proper texture and crisping (russets have a higher starch content).