Texas Living

New Potatoes (A History)

By Celia Bryan-Brown 3.4.19

The humble potato has been much maligned in recent years as nutritionists join the anti-starch brigade and calorie counters amass their forces. But let’s not do that.

Let’s instead think about the bounty being uprooted from land all across Texas — the earthy, nutty, flaky, fulfilling delight of new potatoes, fresh from the soil and spilling over grocery stalls, waiting to be chopped, crushed, mashed, roasted, and tossed into all our spring and summer dishes.

The potato, first cultivated by the ancient Inca from 8,000 to 5,000 B.C. in Peru, has had an enormous impact on agriculture the world over. As one of the most important crops on the planet, it’s often kept civilizations alive and is credited by some historians with fueling the rise of Western Europe.

The Europeans who brought the potato to Texas and other parts of colonized America left their mark. Make the most of this seasonal bounty with new potatoes, which are sweeter and less starchy than their full-grown counterparts. Try these three recipes.

Photo by Natalie Goff

Syracuse Salt Potatoes

This wonderful, earthy relic comes from deep in the 18th-century salt mines of early America. Onondaga County, in upstate New York, used to supply nearly all the salt for the nascent country. Legend has it that the miners, many of whom were Irish immigrants, began cooking potatoes directly in the boiling brine of underground springs from which they harvested stocks of salt. The recipe has become a local roadside classic, on par with New England’s clam chowder or Texas’ Frito pie

Instead of simply boiling your new potatoes in water, add 1 cup of kosher salt per quart of water to cook 1 pound of new potatoes. Drop your potatoes in whole and unpeeled and boil until tender, around 30 minutes. The high salt content will cause the water to boil at a higher temperature than usual, giving the potatoes a creamy, dense interior, salted all the way through. Leave the potatoes to rest and the salt to crystallize around the exteriors. Serve with grilled fish, green salads, and heaps of good Irish butter.

Southern Crispy Potatoes

Like many Southern staples, these crispy, starchy, and buttery potatoes are to die for, and are likely to start disappearing shortly after you pull them out of the oven. Boil your new potatoes whole until nearly done. Drain and let them steam dry before crushing gently with a potato masher or by wrapping in a dishtowel and pressing with your fist. The key is keeping the potatoes whole while creating a roughed surface to crisp up. Toss the crushed potatoes in hot vegetable oil and bake at 425 degrees until crispy, around 40 minutes. Season with coarse salt when hot from the oven and a few sprigs of thyme and pair with chargrilled steak.

Photo by Natalie Goff

German Potato Salad

It just wouldn’t be a barbecue without a side of potato salad. There are all kinds of recipes for this celebrated side dish, and many families have their own. But it’s worth branching out for this authentic German-style dish. It’s the soulmate to the old-style Texas barbecue that German and Czech settlers brought to our shores hundreds of years ago.

For more on Texas produce, learn about buying from local farmers and what’s in season.

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