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I'll Tell Ya This For Free: Canned Potatoes
Previously in this series: Always get a can of condensed milk when you buy a can of evaporated milk, and vice-versa.
My best and most reliable pieces of advice are almost all incredibly small-scale and food-related: If you have to buy evaporated milk for a specific recipe, buy a can of condensed milk at the same time, since they’re kind of easy to mistake for one another and right next to each other at the grocery store, so that even if you do open the wrong one back at home, you’ll still have the other in reserve. If someone offers you a drink during an informational or job interview, you should always take it, because no one ever got a job just because they seemed low-maintenance about beverages during the interview, so it’s not a make-or-break issue or secret test of character, plus the job itself isn’t guaranteed but the here-and-now cup of coffee is. If you have a sore throat, make a cup of weak black tea.
And you should consider buying canned potatoes.Today ran a very cute article about Aldi shoppers ‘rediscovering’ canned potatoes last summer that’s mostly just quotes from members of an unofficial Aldi-themed Facebook group agreeing on how great canned potatoes are (“‘The price is great and they’re as good as any name-brand ones I’ve ever spent money on,’ said Stecker, who prefers to buy the pre-sliced version”), and they’re all dead right.
Of course, potatoes don’t rank very high on the quick-to-spoil list of aspirational produce, so I won’t pretend this is urgently necessary. But it is useful. Every so often I buy three or four cookbooks in a row and delude myself into thinking I’m going to start soaking and sprouting grains on a regular basis, or par-boiling vegetables on Sunday night so my weeknight dinners will “come together faster” (weeknight dinners are always “coming together,” like nation-states after a tragedy).
This has on balance resulted in more spoiled produce, abandoned menus, and hastily-assembled disappointments than anything else, and it’s only very recently (and very gingerly) that I’ve started steering myself away from the Scylla and Charybdis of parboiling and pre-partitioning towards smoother waters. But canned potatoes are par-boiled potatoes, in many ways more convenient and flexible than frozen potatoes (which have already been processed into fries or hash browns or some other pre-determined shape). They are best when you crisp them up yourself (whether roasted, chopped into hash, gratinéed, pan- or deep-fried, etc), but perfectly serviceable mashed (depending on your definition of serviceable, I’m not saying serve it for Thanksgiving but it can be doctored into a very worthwhile solo supper). The worst part about roasting potatoes is always the fussy par-boiling, without which they’re inevitably leathery and rock-hard, so you can skip straight to the fun browning part.
I’m even going to give them a whirl tonight in salad Niçoise. An aside on the subject of salad Niçoise, which I believe is mostly about puttering and less about specific ingredients; salad Niçoise is like fictional vampires inasmuch as the defining characteristic seems to be “We do things a little differently around here” rather than a specific ingredient, and to me a salad Niçoise has no tomatoes, lots of olives, anchovies and tuna, butter lettuce, lots of potatoes, three green beans at most, the standard fines herbes dressing, in the equally-standard wooden bowl rubbed with cut garlic. The egg (never more than one) is entirely optional, as far as I’m concerned, and never more than medium-boiled. If you’ve been fussing with it and changing the ingredients, it’s a Niçoise, and don’t let anybody else tell you any different.
For whatever reason, canned potatoes never made it into the convenience-food repertoire of my youth, as our house leaned more strongly towards the frozen and shelf-stable boxed-dinner aisles, making them a pleasant surprise in my age of majority. There are plenty of canned vegetables I’ll turn up my nose at — green beans, corn, peas, carrots, are all for my money better frozen, while mushrooms should be either fresh or kept off the table entirely. Canned squash purees (pumpkin, sweet potato, kabocha), canned artichoke hearts, and canned white potatoes (either whole, halved, or sliced) are more than worth it. And they’re not as hard to find as you might think; I picked up two cans from the grocery store down the street from me yesterday and the selection there is limited at the best of times.
Some specific applications for your canned potatoes; if any recipes call for par-boiling fresh potatoes, simply skip that step before proceeding:
Helen Rosner reminded me of Mother Dreyer’s Small Potatoes (plus the ensuing thread has additional reminders that canned potatoes are excellent in “long-cooking stews” because they “never fall apart,” unlike fresh)
Smash them each with the back of a fork, coat with the fat and spices of your choice, roast at 425° for 10-15 minutes per side, flipping once
Roughly dice them into a crispy tofu scramble. I love an egg, but will forever have a soft spot for a good diner tofu hash. Like potatoes, tofu benefits wildly from crisping (while a crispy scrambled egg pleases no one), besides which, scrambled eggs go from piping-hot to stone cold in about two minutes
There you are! I do not promise this will change your life. They are canned potatoes, nothing more. They are “mostly convenient” and “pretty good,” especially if you’re cooking for yourself. But they will get the job done, and they will never spoil in your crisper before you’ve had sufficient time to become the entirely new kind of person who opens their crisper every day. Thank you for your time.