Does the rest of the world know about these: salt potatoes

Ack, I know this photo is gross. I was fighting a salty steam cloud.

Ack, I know this photo is gross. I was fighting a salty steam cloud.

I live in Syracuse, a city in central New York that locals affectionately refer to as Salt City, from its salty past—in the nineteenth century, its marshes and salt mines provided most of the salt used by the entire country. In any case, one of the area’s most iconic dishes is also one of the most stupid-easy side dishes of summer I have ever come across: Salt potatoes.

Come summer time, huge paper bags loaded with medium-sized scrubbed spuds arrive in every major supermarket, along with an almost-as-huge salt packet. You boil the potatoes and salt in a specified amount of water, drain, and serve with melted butter. See what I’m saying?

Apparently, the presence of the alarming amount of salt makes for a creamier potato, since it raises the boiling point of the water and cooks everything at a higher temperature. But the salt also penetrates through the flesh, seasoning the whole thing, and renders the skin pleasantly papery and with a slight salty cast. All the better to rehydrate with the butter.

Even though you might not have the convenience of the pre-packaged kits everywhere else, I would still recommend making the dish—I mean, you have salt in the house already, so the only thing you have to do is scrub up a bunch of smallish white or red potatoes and melt some butter in the microwave. Salt potatoes go with every possible thing you could think to cook on the grill,and they cook relatively quickly. You can read more about the potatoes and find a recipe here, but I have one recommendation: instead of bringing the water to a boil first and then adding potatoes, start the potatoes in the cold water. Yes, it means that they will spend some time cooking in just-warm water, but I have found that the potatoes are creamy nonetheless, and this way there is no risk of accidentally boiling off some of the water and leaving you with overly-salty spuds, which can happen very easily when you’re running in and out of the house working the grill and also preventing your kids from killing each other in their late-day hunger/tiredness-induced pre-dinner mania.

If you’re serving those with delicate appetites, feel free to put the butter on the side for everyone to drizzle as they like, but I like to take a page from this other Syracuse institution* and immediately toss those freshly-drained babies right in with the butter, so that they are practically swimming.

*Yes, I know, Brooklyn. But it was here first.

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3 thoughts on “Does the rest of the world know about these: salt potatoes

  1. Thanks for the recommendation to start the potatoes in cold water! Your out-of-town readers might like to know the history behind the salt potatoes. I’d be happy to share, although the Onondaga Historical Society probably has the most authentic version!!

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