Some kitchen queens invite the family in to share in the joy of cooking. My mom took the
opposite tact, often shooing us “out from under her feet.” The stove was her personal domain. If she didn’t want her children messing about in the kitchen, she certainly didn’t want my dad at the stove. In my mother’s realm, men didn’t belong at the stove. And they still don’t. My mother and father rarely agreed on anything, but they agreed on this.
They also agree that a cast iron skillet is the only kind of skillet worth a cook’s time or
energy. My mother has never used another kind of skillet and the only memories I have of my father ever at the stove were with our cast iron skillet, creating one of three dishes he was “allowed” to make—popcorn, fried bread, and heavenly, bliss-on-bliss, fried potatoes. Fried potatoes, so simple, so hardy, so delicious they could make me weep with joy. With just the right play between crustiness
and smoothness, a smattering of grease, salt, pepper, maybe some onions, that earthy, deep fried-potato flavor, stands a testament to simple, hardy elegance that has sustained my salt-of-the earth-people for generations.
Yet, the fried potatoes of my youth continue to elude me in my own kitchen. In truth, I don’t
make them as often as my parents. They were on the table at least twice a week. I might make them twice a year. So I just don’t have the practice to perfect them. Slicing the potatoes just so (as evenly as possible) and the necessary preening over them while they are frying—moving them around, helping the cast iron skillet to cook them evenly—seems like a luxury in time and space in my harried life. Plus, I don’t even want to think about the calories. (Sorry Mom, I know that’s against the rules.)
Still, every now and then, like right now, this moment, I can think of only few dishes as
sustaining and comforting as fried potatoes from a cast iron skillet. The flavor is so much better and deeper than any non-stick fly-by-night pan yields. I’ll be making a batch in the upcoming week and report back to you next week. I’ll also offer some tips on caring for cast iron skillets. Any other fried potato lovers out there? How about cast iron skillet fans?