Salt Potatoes

Today, I am a mind reader.

I am going to predict the reaction of all readers outside the Western New York region (or those who have never lived or visited here.) “Wow. Boiled potatoes with butter. Big deal.” I must tell you gently that you’re wrong. Wrongity wrong wrong WRONG wrong. These are no mere boiled potatoes. These are salt potatoes.

Look closely at the photo. Do you see that white dusty appearance to the potatoes? That is a super fine coating of salt left from boiling in heavily salted water, draining and air drying. Are you ready for another telepathic demonstration?

Many of you are now saying, “Oookay. Boiled potatoes in salty water. Whoopee.” Have a little faith, folks! I only share my favorite recipes with you. This is definitely one of them.

Salt potatoes are a fixture on the Upstate New York and Western New York summer barbecue/picnic/county fair/carnival circuit. Where there is a grill fired up, there is likely to be a pot of water on the boil for a big bowl of buttered salt potatoes. Around these parts, salt potatoes represent summer as much or more than potato salad. They are so popular, that they’re sold as “kits” (the kits are nothing more than perfect sized potatoes and a packet of salt) in even the smallest grocery stores. It was one the first things my husband requested for his Father’s Day cookout and I guarantee you these will be on the Fourth of July menu for three-quarters of the households in our region.

So, what’s the difference between a mere boiled potato and a salt potato? A boiled potato is dropped into plain or lightly salted water, boiled until tender and served, usually, with butter and chopped herbs. Salt potatoes, on the other hand, use a formula to determine how salty the water should be. Generally speaking, bring to a boil three quarts of water, stir in three-quarters of a pound of good old-fashioned table salt, then carefully lower in four and a quarter pounds of Size B new white boiling potatoes. When they’re tender,  drain in a colander and let air dry a bit to form that signature white dusting of salt. Top with butter and serve hot, warm, cold or anywhere in between. Then die of happiness when you take your first bite.

It is this method and formula that transforms a plain old boiled potato. Because of the quantity of salt in the water, it boils at a higher temperature, better cooking and developing the starches the potato contains. When this happens, you have a creamier potato. And whoah is it creamy. Tender, but not waterlogged; salty but not Dead-sea salty; salt potatoes are a revelation.

I have a third and final example of my powers of thought transference. Some are now asking what they would possibly do with four and a quarter pounds of cooked potatoes. Well, my first answer is “eat them!”, but I understand that not everyone is feeding a regiment with each meal like I am. There are some mind-bendingly delicious applications for leftover salt potatoes.

  • Home fries: Chop up leftover salt potatoes and fry in a heavy skillet with additional butter or bacon grease. You’ve never had better home fries in your entire life.
  • Crash Hot Potatoes: The Pioneer Woman’s fabulous Down-Under treatment for potatoes becomes that much easier with leftover salt potatoes. It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, you can ramp back on the salt you sprinkle over the smooshed, olive oiled and rosemaried potatoes before baking. They are salt potatoes, after all.
  • Smashed Potatoes: Reheat your salt potatoes, smash lightly, add a splash of heavy cream, some garlic, black pepper and chopped herbs. Stir well with a wooden spoon, serve with a grilled steak or portabello mushroom and prepare to be very happy.
  • Potato Salad: Cut chilled leftover salt potatoes into bite sized pieces, toss with mayonnaise, chopped onions and celery, a squirt of yellow mustard, freshly ground black pepper and stir. Voila! Almost instant potato salad.
  • Cold Salt Potato Midnight Snack: Yes. You haven’t lived until you’ve hit the refrigerator after staying up too late to watch a movie, skewered a cold salt potato on a fork, and nibbled delicately until the potato has disappeared. Trust me.

There is one last item to cover in this salt potato discussion; that is the question of whether to toss with butter or let the butter melt and run down over the hot salt potatoes. I’m in the latter camp, because I like the slight salt crust to be accented by rivulets of melted butter.  I love dunking my salt potatoes in the butter that pools at the bottom of the bowl. In my opinion, tossing the hot potatoes with butter to cover them completely takes away a bit from the charm of salt potatoes. The melted butter obscures the salty outer dusting. However -and I speak the gospel truth here- they’re still delicious that way. They’re still distinctively not your average boiled potato. They’re still creamy and salty; they’re just covered with butter. That’s not a bad thing.

This recipe is a perfect illustration of how simplicity so often delivers the most refined, intense flavours. Eating salt potatoes -whether taking a bite from the end of the little gem and dragging it through the melted butter on the plate before biting again or licking the melted butter dripping down your fork and the side of your hand- is one summer’s purest joys.

Salt Potatoes

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 8-10 servings

Salt potatoes are a fixture of summertime picnics, feasts, barbecues and festivals in Western New York for great reason; they're creamy, tender, salty, buttery and vastly superior to the average boiled potato.

Ingredients

  • 3 quarts of water
  • 12 ounces (approximately 1 1/2 cups) fine salt
  • 4 1/4 pounds one-to-two bite sized new white boiling potatoes, washed (*see notes)
  • 1 stick cold butter (4 ounces), cut into 8 pieces
  • Optional:
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Instructions

Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot or soup pot over high heat.

When water reaches the boil, stir in all of the salt.

Lower the potatoes into the water, one or two at a time, taking care not to splash yourself.

Return the water to a boil, lower heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are tender, between 15 and 25 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. (**See notes for methods on testing the potatoes for doneness.)

Pour the water and potatoes into a colander in the sink and leave to air dry for 5-10 minutes.

Transfer the potatoes to a serving dish and dot with the pieces of butter.

Serve as is or garnish with chopped parsley.

To Store Leftovers:

Pour potatoes and butter from the bowl into a container with a tight fitting lid or a zipper top bag.

Notes

*Salt potato kits, sold all over Upstate New York, use a very specific size of potatoes; Size B, Grade US no. 2. While most grocery stores don't define their potatoes using this method, you can't go wrong buying small creamer potatoes that are one-or-two-biters. The shape of the potato doesn't matter at all.

**To test your potatoes, use tongs to lift a large potato from the boiling water. A skewer plunged into the potato should pass through the potato completely if it is done.

http://www.foodiewithfamily.com/2011/06/20/salt-potatoes/

Comments

  1. Does it matter what type of fine salt you use (sea salt, kosher, etc.)?

  2. Nancy- The salt that comes in the packets in the kits is usually plain table salt. I’ve used both Kosher and plain table salt and I’ve been happy with both.

  3. you know i will be making these.

  4. Thank you for sharing this recipe with us! I have heard of salt potatoes (I’m not too, too far from you) but I’ve never eaten one. Now I must make them. My hub is a potato (& salt) fanatic. He will love this recipe. I’ll be on a potato hunt this week for sure.

    Please note I resisted the urge to use an Elf reference when posting this comment. :)

  5. I’m intrigued. Most definitely intrigued. I will be giving these salt potatoes a try. These sound tasty.

  6. I am from the West and have never heard of these and I am interested. Can you use those little red potatoes too? By the way can you tell me the secret to great polenta or do you have a good recipe?

    Thx

  7. @Krysta- Oh, I know you will!

    @Lisa- Oh, if you’re already a potato and salt fan you do need to try these. They’re *sigh* a little bit of heaven.

    @Wenderly- That was my first reaction when we moved to the area. Now I’m a devotee.

    @Tina- You can absolutely use little reds. The key is to get a boiling type potato. Thin skinned Waxy potatoes, small Yukon golds, white boiling potatoes, all would work well. I’d steer clear of Russets or the larger potatoes with the thick skins.

  8. Aunt Tuna says:

    I knew what this was going to be about, and I thought I had emotionally prepared myself, however the sight of salt-crusted potatoes with butter melting around them just put me over the edge. I have salivated and it ain’t pretty.

  9. Melissa says:

    People from less enlightened areas of the country have no idea what they’ve been missing. My fav leftover is a salt potato sandwich on pumpernickel with mayo.

  10. Wendy Gunderson says:

    I was first introduced to salt potatoes at a clambake in the Syracuse area. What a treat to see how easy they are. Now that I’m in Texas, they’ll just have to adapt as a barbecue side. I think they’ll be perfect.

    Thanks!

  11. I love these! I haven’t made them in ages! Thank you for bringing it back to mind!

  12. I am born & raised in western NY (currently living in Rochester). It’s always amazing to me how many people have never heard of salt potatoes! I must make them at least 6 times every summer. They’re the perfect picnic food.

  13. Katherine says:

    i have homegrown fingerling potatoes ready to harvest / how about them for salt potatoes ?

    please say yes / smile / i cant wait to try these / thanks

  14. I saw your photo on TasteSpotting and sighed with longing. I grew up in Rochester and sure do miss those tasty little potatoes – I haven’t had them in years. You’re right – people from out of state just don’t understand!

  15. MaryAnne says:

    Until moving to CNY a year and a half ago, I had never heard of salt potatoes. Being the good Midwesterner that I am, I could not imagine that there was a way to prepare potatoes that I did not know! One bite and we were all hooked…

  16. Diana Vance says:

    I have never heard of these either. I grew up in Western PA, been living in the Hoosier Heartland for decades and have never come across them. I made them tonight for my guys, WOW! So simple, so GOOD!! Thank you!

  17. CourtneyEliz says:

    Holy moly. So I live in Sweden and if anybody knows much about Sweden – these people freakin’ live off potatoes. My husband is a meatball and potato kind of guy and I, frankly, was so very sick of it until I had these salt potatoes last night. I have made potatoes every which way and I *seriously* thought I couldn’t eat any more. Ever. Well! I ate a TON of potatoes last night. They are just that good. Leftovers? Yeah, we don’t have any! Simple, cheap, delicious recipe..Definitely a keeper. Thank you for curing my potato sickness!

  18. marigold larhette says:

    reading Blood Bones and Butter led me to this site!Great trip! Thank you!

  19. Wow. These are good. I’ve made them a couple times now. I used baby red potatoes (all I could find at my local grocery). And I love them even without butter. Thanks for sharing!!

  20. These are awesome! I used Baby Reds also. First time I have ever enjoyed a cold ‘tater! Thank you!

  21. Marietta Gould says:

    My hub is a potato (& salt) fanatic. So simple, so GOOD!! I ate a TON of potatoes last night.

  22. I am from Alabama, but married a boy from NY, Baldwinsville, I had never had these until a visit to his family, I just assumed they were like any other boiled potato. I was WRONG!!! I have found these recentally in a local grocery store, labeled as Salt Potatoes. It looked exactly the same as the ones in NY. I bought them and cooked them immediately and oh my so good!

  23. I live in Western NY and see these on the menu and in stores all the time. I had no idea that it was a western and upper NY thing. They really are very good. I like some parsley in my butter then roll the potatoes in it. Small yukon gold and small red potatoes work well. They sound so simple, but there is something about the flavor of being boiled in salted water that just works so well. Just bought some from the Farmer’s Market and making some for dinner.

  24. I’m a midwesterner and had never heard of these until I found your blog. Have really been enjoying it. I tried these and they were a definite hit with my husband. Yummy. I did cut down on the amount of potatoes and adjust the recipe to use less water and salt for just the two of us. But, why didn’t I find them listed under sides in the recipe list? I had to follow the link from the crash potatoes recipe to find them again.

  25. Chocolate Lady says:

    I’m a California gal, and I promise, I didn’t have the expected reaction; you had me hooked 3 sentences in and I had to keep reading to find out what delectable, tasty bites I’ve been missing out on my entire life. I’ve never heard of potatoes cooked this way, and because I can’t wait until summer for new white boiling papas, I’m going to try this out using baby reds this weekend. I LOVE your blog!!! Thank you!

  26. Jeremy says:

    Darn! I thought I invented Salt Potato Salad. I don’t salt the potatos, they stand on their own as a great creamy textured salad. I sometimes add some ranch and shredded cheddar to the mayo mixture. This is something I look forward to every summer. I had them for the first time at a Chiefs game at Alliance Bank Stadium and fell in love with them immediately. Thanks for the other tips!!

    • :-) They were actually invented at Cornell University in the Ag department by folks who were trying to figure out a way to make the culls palatable and something that people would buy! I know someone who was attending Cornell at the time!

  27. pelican says:

    These potatoes are awesome! I recently tried them for the time at my stepdaughters wedding. They had the fire department cater the wedding with a barbecue and let me tell you fire departments know how to cook! I was wondering what salt potatoes were and they are nothing short of delicious. You’ve got to try these little gems and they will sure be a part of my recipe collection!

  28. How would you reheat salt potatoes?

    • You have a couple options… None of them will really keep the salt crust intact except for option A which is putting them in a shallow baking dish and baking them in a 350°F oven until heated through. You can also nuke ‘em or put them in a covered saucepan with a half inch of water, bring to a boil, then lower heat and steam ’til heated through. The truth is, though, most Western New Yorkers eat the leftovers cold or as home fries~

  29. I have heard of these fabled potatoes, but not from anyone that could really explain how they are made. I think these would be fab for a barbeque I am doing for a large group this spring. Any thoughts (cautions, shocked replies) on using part butter and part bacon grease for the ‘dressing’ on these guys?

    • The purists would say no and then secretly sneak them if they had bacon fat on them. :D I say try ‘em small scale like that before you commit an entire batch. Worst case scenario? You make a seriously rockin’ batch of home fries from the leftovers!

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