Editor's Note: A few weeks back, you, the Serious Eats Community mentioned in a Talk thread that you wanted to see some more coverage of Latin cuisines from the Americas South of Mexico. Well you spoke, and we listened. Check back each week for recipes from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, and beyond.
If you're a potato, then the Andes are the cradle of your civilization. Colombia's got a big chunk of real estate in those mountains, and it shows in their cuisine. Colombians like their potatoes like they like their... Well, honestly, there's not much I can think of that they love as much as potatoes—heck, their national dish is a soup made of three different kinds! (Get the recipe here.)
But the king of the potatoes, when you ask a Colombian, is the small, yellow, creamy papa criolla, a particular cultivar that's really difficult to track down outside of Colombia. There are some markets that sell the par-boiled potatoes frozen, but that's hardla a substitute. To my palate, the closest you can get is a small Yukon Gold. I've had some from the farmer's market that in a blind test, I'd pit papa-a-papa against a papa criolla.
They can be cooked any number of ways—steamed, boiled, baked in salt, cooked into soup—but the simplest (and tastiest) is to fry them whole, skin and all.
The method of frying is key. 'Round these parts, when you think fried, you think golden brown and crisp. But fried papas criollas are more tender than fluffy, with paper thin wrinkly skins that burst open like little balloons when you bite into them, releasing their creamy, potato-y innards. If all goes well, you'll end up eating a couple before they're cool enough to handle, inevitably burning your mouth, then reaching right back for another one because damn, are they sabroso.
To fry 'em, I find that the easiest method is to put them all in a pot that'll fit them in a single layer, then add just enough cold oil to come about 2/3 of the way up their sides. From there, I cook them with a lid slightly ajar, making sure the oil never gets beyond a lively bubble. The goal is supreme tenderness, not crunch or browning. After they're cooked through, it's just a matter of draining, salting (generously), and serving, perhaps with a nice fresh ají.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.