Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rösti: Pure home

For the first 25 or so years of my life, I never buttered my bread at a restaurant. It wasn't because I was doing anything drastic like trying to cut calories or nix all forms of fat from my diet, but rather because my mother isn't particularly fond of butter and never buttered her bread when I was growing up.

Even though in recent years, I've come to realize that there are few things more pleasurable in the world than a thick slice of warm sourdough smeared with salted, room temperature butter, I still can't help but think of my mother when I reach for the butter knife. I picture her cringing face, her dry piece of bread that she is perfectly content to devour sans accoutrement, and I feel the slightest twinge of guilt. 

It usually lasts only a moment, brushed aside as soon as I take that first soul-satisfying bite, but is still something I carry with me, like the memory of the first time I rode a bike or the day I fell down the stairs in front of the Dean of Admissions during a campus tour at Northwestern.

It's weird how we learn to develop certain habits and associations with foods that have nothing to do with personal taste. Things that we pick-up from our parents, like eating toast with peanut butter instead of jam or considering oatmeal cookies a totally reasonable thing to eat for breakfast because, as my mother used to justify, "They have cereal in them."

To this day, I still prefer peanut butter on my toast than straight jam, and while I don't usually eat oatmeal cookies for breakfast, I have no qualms about doing so, all the while picturing my mother sitting at the dining table in the house I grew up in, enjoying her mid-morning cookie with a cup of overly strong, black coffee.

Even with this vivid mental image, the biggest food association I have to my mother is not those mid-morning chocolate chip oatmeal cookies nor those dry slices of white restaurant bread.

It's to the potato.

Nicknamed "Spud" in college because of all the potatoes she ate in the dining hall, my mother always made the humble starch a staple in our household when we were growing up. Whether baked whole, roasted in meaty wedges, or pan-fried into "raw fries," they were one of the few foods that my brothers and I all liked -- likely because we'd been trained to be potato-eaters since birth.

Today I don't eat nearly as many potatoes as I did back in those days, but whenever I do, I feel instantly comforted. It makes me think of home -- the ratty-edged blue placements on our family room dining table, the hamburgers my dad used to burn for me on the grill to go with those potato wedges, the twice-baked potatoes coated in bright orange Tillamook cheese that we always ate, and continue to eat, on Christmas Eve.

When I stumbled upon this recipe for Rösti on Lottie & Doof via Saveur, I was instantly taken back to those visuals. Christmas. Burnt hamburgers. My mother, standing over the stove, gingerly turning over thin-slices of russet potatoes with an olive green plastic spatula.

Even without Tim's high praise of the recipe, I felt compelled to make it, as though by tenderly attending to the potatoes -- boiling, chilling, grating, frying, and flipping them -- I was paying tribute to my mother. Or at the very least, my childhood.

This recipe is exactly as Tim describes it -- "pure comfort."

And pure home. With just a little bit of butter. 

Adapted from Lottie & Doof via Saveur

Notes: The original recipe calls for approximately 2 1/4 pounds russet potatoes (about 3 large) to be prepared in an 8'' nonstick pan. Since my cast-iron pan measures in around 6'', and I didn't trust myself to be in the presence of that much potato as one solo person with questionable willpower, I opted to cut down the proportions slightly. I used a little less than a pound and a half of potato, which equaled out to two russets, and cut down the proportion of salt, butter and oil just slightly to my own personal taste.

Finally, while this ultimate version of the best hash brown you've ever had is perfectly delicious on it's own, or perhaps served simply with sour cream and scallions as Tim so presciently suggests, I felt inclined to top my wedge with a fried egg. I would recommend you do the same.

1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes (about 2)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil (or canola if you have it)
1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring it to a slow, but steady boil, and then cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are just pierceable with fork. The time will vary based on the girth and size of your potatoes, but will take around 30 minutes. [Something to note: If you prefer to have a little more texture to your rösti, boil the potatoes a few minutes less -- cooking them all the way through will make for a rösti that will remind you more of a mashed potato fritter rather than a hash brown. Both forms are perfectly suitable, so it's really an issue of personal preference.]

Once potatoes are done to your liking, drain and rinse with a blast of cold water to help hasten the cooling process. Continue to cool for ten minutes before carefully peeling. Cut out any brown spots that you see.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to an hour before proceeding.

Once suitably chilled, grate the potatoes using the large holes on a cheese grater. Toss the potatoes with the salt.

Heat butter and oil in a 6'' cast iron or other non-stick pan over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, add the potato and stir in the butter and oil. Once the potatoes have been thoroughly coated, mold them into a fat disk. Cook, shaking the skillet from time to time to ensure they aren't sticking, until the edges are browned, about 20 minutes or so.

Cover the pan with a large plate, and invert the rösti onto the plate. Slide it back into the pan, cooked side up, and continue cooking until the bottom is equally golden brown, around 20 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into fat wedges. Eat topped with a fried egg, with sour cream and scallions, or as is -- pure potato.


weezermonkey said...

I rarely comment on recipe posts but OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG.

Please drop off at my house.

Thank you.

Pearl said...

Diana, that looks absolutely delicious! Thank you for sharing. I used to never butter my bread, either, until one day I did... and now I can't seem to not butter it. haha!

yutjangsah said...

Does every mom have a plastic spatula she is associated with? Lovely, evocative writing.

I've fallen down the stairs 4x, once having to drive myself to the ER afterwards bleeding copiously & maimed. I've also fallen off a bike & rollerskated into a wall. With all this excitement in my life, I regularly need butter & taters & a plastic spatula'd mom.