Why It Works
- Papas criollas are revered in Colombia, but small Yukon Golds are a good substitute.
- Gently frying in oil makes for a tender, creamy potato with wrinkly skin.
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 hardly 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 two-thirds 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.
July 12, 2012
1 pound small yellow potatoes, preferably papas criollas (available in some Latin specialty stores) (see note)
2 cups vegetable oil
1 recipe ají (Colombian-style salsa)
Place potatoes in a saucepan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add oil until potatoes are about two-thirds covered. Heat over high heat until oil is bubbling steadily but not vigorously and adjust heat to maintain temperature. Partially cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, until potatoes show no resistance when pierced by a sharp knife or skewer and exteriors are wrinkled but not browned, about 15 minutes.
Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon. Season generously with salt. Serve with ají.
Small Yukon Gold potatoes are a good substitute for papas criollas.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 25g||31%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||9%|
|Total Carbohydrate 19g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||9%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 8mg||40%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|