Something that fascinates me is food culture. There are so many things that make small towns across the USA and even around the world super unique. But food, to me, is #1. One of the things I’m looking most forward to in my two week honeymoon across Europe is the food. There’s so much variability and history in each of the cuisines we will be sampling from Spain to Greece. I can’t wait to try them all!
As a native upstate New Yorker, I can think of several dishes and treats that people outside of my neighboring zip codes have probably never heard of. One such example is salt potatoes. As the name implies, this is a side dish that makes cardiologists cringe. But a good 20 point surge in your resting blood pressure is sometimes worth a good meal… at least, I think so.
As far back as I can remember, this has been a staple at so many summer barbecues. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered that these potatoes are basically only familiar to those within a 100 mile radius of Syracuse, NY. And, since I believe a great meal is 50% food and 50% conversation, I’ve dug up a little history on the origin of this recipe to share with your friends as you serve this local delicacy. Disclaimer: I was not present for the 19th century, so this could be all lies, but it makes for an interesting story.
The story goes that in the 1800s, the economy of Syracuse and central NY was almost completely dependent on the mining of salt. Miners, supposedly of mostly Irish descent, would bring potatoes to work to boil in the briny spring water for lunch. This became popular because the salinated water changed not only the flavor of the potatoes, but the texture as well, producing a creamy, buttery center without the use of cream or butter. Although, in today’s world, these little darlings are drenched in an artery-clogging amount of butter anyway.
If you’re driving through central NY in the summer, you might notice that grocery stores and even gas stations will have a paper sack of salt potatoes ready for boiling. These are usually young white potatoes. They even come with a handy bag of salt so there’s no measuring required. However, I prefer to go homemade with these because I find the prepackaged brands to be too salty, even for salt potatoes. My go-to is a 4:1 ratio. That’s four pounds of potatoes to one cup of salt. I have also found that using a different potato variety is not necessarily a deal breaker. Size is the ultimate factor here. You want a potato that’s roughly 2-3″ in diameter so the brine can fully penetrate the potato as they boil.
It’s also important to note that the potatoes will very often develop a thin, white “film” of salt as well. This is most noticeable after they’ve been drained from the boiling water. This might not look super appetizing at first, but after you drizzle on a generous pouring of melted butter, the film disappears.
Try this salty, starchy recipe at your next summer BBQ!
2 quarts of water
4 lbs. of young potatoes, about 2-3″ wide
1 cup of salt
1 stick of butter
Place water, potatoes and salt in a large pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain and place on a serving dish. Melt butter in a separate dish and pour over potatoes just prior to serving.