Monday, January 2, 2012

Controlled Chaos

S is our kitchen helper. Instead of stuffing envelopes or packing boxes with the rest of the people we feed, she spends her day in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, chopping vegetables and acting as the bridge between the kitchen and the dining room. She sets up the tables, clears them, cleans them and brings the trays, plates and cutlery back to the kitchen to be washed. In short, she does a lot. She's a hard, sturdy worker. We rely on her quite a bit.  She also talks incessantly. Her soft voice is the background noise of the kitchen. She's endlessly curious, and always asking questions-Does your cell phone have a camera? Does it hurt to give birth? Can I use the food processor? (Yes, I imagine so, yes) Some of the women I work with find her chatter distracting and difficult to deal with. I kind of like it. Though I admit  that when you're holding a hot pan of roasted pumpkin, looking desperately for a free space to put it down before you drop it, "do you have a touch-screen?"- is not exactly what you want to hear.
I didn't really realize what an integral part of the kitchen S is until the day she wasn't there. S. is almost never sick. I have never known her to take vacation either. But one week, a family event took her away from the kitchen for a few days. What resulted was controlled chaos. Sure, the kitchen worked, the food got served and  the dishes got washed. But, unused to having to deal with both the dining room and the kitchen, we were on edge- shouting, running, spilling things.  By the end of the day we sort of had a system down, but it was one chaotic system.
Wiping down a table that day, my friend, L looked up at me and said:
"I guess I just never realized how hard S. works."
And she does. She works hard. She doesn't complain. It wouldn't occur to her to complain. This is her job. She just does it, chattering all the while.

I like to think of the recipe for these roasted potatoes as an exercise in controlled chaos. I first saw this recipe on Ginette Mathiot's lovely blog, Chocolate and Zucchini and as you can probably tell, Ginette is French. However, this method for roasting potatoes is definitively British. It involves parboiling the potatoes, draining them, giving them a rough shake in a covered pot and then dumping them in a roasting pan with hot fat. The fuzzy potatoes hit the hot oil with a huge sizzle, and somehow a super-crispy-on-the-outside-soft-and-mushy-on-the-inside, just-the-right-amount-of-salty potato of wonderfulness is born. It's pretty spectacular. And fun. And kind of chaotic-like water molecules at a boil, or the kitchen without S.

Controlled-Chaos Roasted Potatoes
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

2.5 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 410 F.

1. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Add a teaspoon of coarse salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook at a slow boil for 5 minutes.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, pour the oil onto a rimmed baking sheet or into a roasting pan and place in the oven to heat.

3. After 5 minutes, remove potatoes from heat, drain them and then pour them back into the saucepan. Cover the pan with its lide and then grabbing the handles with both hands (use pot holders or a kitchen towel, pot handles can be hot), give the pot a few good, vigorous shakes. When you open the lid you should see a happy bunch of fuzz covered potatoes looking back at you.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and pour the potatoes into the pan. Sprinkle with salt and give the potatoes a stir so that they are coated in oil.

5. Return to oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, turning the potatoes halfway through. The potatoes are ready when they are crusty and golden on the outside and nice and soft on the inside.

6. Serve immediately.


  1. This almost exactly how my English grandmother makes her potatoes.

  2. How does your grandmother do it differently? Would love to get an authentic "British" version.