Picture this: finely chopped onions cooked slowly until soft and sweet; tomatoes cooked on low heat until they break down and melt, rustically pulpy; crushed garlic so soft that it creams easily when pressed against the back of a spoon. This is the base, the foundation for a pan of fried potatoes. Cut into chunks, the potatoes are tossed with the onion-tomato-garlic mixture; the pan is covered and left to cook low and slow until the potatoes are cooked through; soft but not mushy. The few wiri-wiri or maiwiri peppers tossed on top of the potatoes before lidding the pot are tender, easy to mash and mix with the potatoes when eating. A plate of hot fluffy white rice or leafy clapped paratha roti completes the meal. You hungry yet?
In Guyanese parlance we use the words fry and fried when referring to a method of cooking that visitors would consider to be sautéed. People from other parts of the region have their own colloquial term for this type of cooking. For example, in Barbados they would say dove (pronounced doov-ed). Fried Potatoes is a simple, humble dish to make; even if you do not have onions, tomatoes and garlic, salt and pepper alone will do. The method of cooking potatoes covered on low heat helps concentrate the natural flavour of the potato and yields a pleasing texture on the palette. It is one of those things that you can quickly put together when you are short on time, wondering what to cook to feed hungry mouths or better yet, when, like me, you simply crave fried potatoes. I must admit, I prefer mine with rice rather than roti.
One of the most exciting things about eating fried potatoes is getting some of the bun-bun – the part at the bottom and sides of the pan where the potatoes have been scorched, charred and stuck to the pan. Everything is concentrated in the bun-bun, it’s a little crisp, salty, and sweet. YUM! You mix that together with the potatoes and the soft cooked rice and I bet you would not miss the meat. I neglected to mention that to get the full experience you will need to eat with your fingers; no spoons, knives or forks, please.
Potatoes are like a blank canvas and will absorb the flavour of whatever they are cooked with, this therefore makes fried potatoes a dish that can have a variety of flavour profiles. Varying the cut of the potatoes also contributes to making each pan of Fried Potatoes, different. Sometimes I like to slice them thin or thick, other times, cut into large chunks and then on other occasions, I cut them into small uniform squares. One of the things some people find frustrating about cooking Fried Potatoes is that by the time the dish is done cooking, it is a mass of mush. This mainly comes about from one of two things or both – cooking the potatoes with water which will result in them absorbing liquid and breaking down OR frequently tossing the potatoes during the cooking period. Here’s what to do.
Once the aromatics are softened, raise the heat to high, add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Give everything thing a good toss and cook on high heat for a couple of minutes then cover the pan tightly and reduce the heat to low. Now, if when I check on the potatoes at the time I figured they should be done and they are not, I use a spatula (rubber mixing one or one used to flip things) to turn the potatoes, inserting the spatula from the sides of the pan, thereby lifting the potatoes. I repeat this action once, all around the pan, cover it again and let the potatoes finish cooking.
I do not always cook Fried Potatoes to the stage of developing bun-bun, I only do this when I have cut the potatoes into thin slices – this type of cut provides more surface area to rest in the pan creating a crust. To create the bun-bun, when the potatoes are done cooking, raise the heat to high and let cook until you hear it start to crackle.
So, the next time you are looking for something quick, simple and easy to make that is guaranteed to be delicious, make some Fried Potatoes.
Next week: Cross Buns 2.0