Monday, April 22, 2019

Sichuan-style crunchy smashed potatoes

Potatoes may be native to South America, but over the past couple hundred years, they have (literally and figuratively) taken root in many parts of China, and one place that manages to do them up particularly well is Sichuan. 

However, today’s recipe is not traditional in the least. Rather, it is a culinary hybrid that combines Western roasted potatoes with the favorite seasonings of the Central Highlands: chile peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, garlic, scallions, and salt.

But I’ve gone one step further: I have unleashed those flavors on smashed roasted potatoes, because then I really have the best of both worlds. 

If you’ve never had smashed potatoes, these are small whole tubers that are simmered until tender and then slightly flattened, which releases the fluffy insides and crinkles up the skins.

Little Yukon Golds
You then drizzle oil over the potatoes, dust on the dry spices and salt, and roast them with high heat until they’re almost – but not quite yet – perfect. Then, a final addition of minced garlic and scallions are sprinkled on top before the potatoes are roasted until the exteriors are wonderfully crunchy.

Serve this with grilled steaks or roast chicken or as part of a vegetarian feast. It doesn’t really matter… they’ll always take center stage in spite of what else is on the table.

Roast smashed potatoes a la Sichuan chez Huang
Huángjiā Chuānshì kăo tŭdòu 黃家川式烤土豆
Serves 4 as a side

2 pounds | 1 kg small Yukon gold potatoes (around 2 inches | 5 cm across)
1 tablespoon sea salt
The seasonings

The rest:
Spray oil
1½ teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 scallion, finely minced

1. Scrub the potatoes, place them in a saucepan, and cover with water. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring the potatoes to a boil. Simmer them uncovered until barely tender, around 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander.

A slightly smashed potato
2. Heat your oven to 425ºC | 215ºC. Spray a rimmed pan with oil. Place the potatoes on the pan and press down lightly on each one to break them open, but not into pieces – just so they are cracked and slightly flattened. Try to have a bit of room between the potatoes so that they can get the chance to crisp up.

3. Mix the oil, salt, pepper flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, and cumin together, and sprinkle this evenly over the potatoes. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and roast them for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the potatoes have a lovely golden tinge. Take a taste of the potatoes and add more salt, if desired.

4. Sprinkle the garlic and scallions over them and return the pan to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the outsides are as crispy and crunchy as you like them. Taste and add more salt, if you like. Scrape the potatoes and the seasonings into a serving bowl and eat immediately.