Babies come in all sizes. This is true of potatoes as well as people. There are fat ones as big as a child’s fist. Also sporadically available are tiny ovals, sized like an assortment of birds’ eggs, that suit the idea of new better than the bigger ones. When you can get them, it is worth doing something special to them.
Baking them in a salt crust is special, and, what is more, uncomplicated. For a dinner, when you are juggling several cooking projects at once, potatoes done in this way are low maintenance. Put them in the oven and when they are done, set them aside still covered in the salt crust. They can be happily ignored. Sitting around will not mar them–they will be soft and still warm when you crack the crust and put them on plates.
There is no reason to wait to try this method until you come across the tiniest of potatoes. Salt crusting is for bigger babies, too…
….And, when your beloved is away on a business trip and the prospect of dinner alone does not make you feel like cooking, it takes only a few minutes to put some potatoes in a little casserole under a salt crust. Then, at the end of an hour, with cheese and slices of apple or pear….you have a consoling supper.
Baby Potatoes Baked in a Salt Crust (for 10 people)
- 2 pounds of new potatoes of any size, unpeeled
- a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, or some dried of each
- 2 Tablespoons of butter, cut into small bits and some more to butter the casserole
- 2 or 3 Tablespoons of water
- 2 egg whites
- 1 and 1/2 pounds of coarse salt
- an oven-proof casserole large enough to hold the potatoes
- a pastry brush, if you want to dust the potatoes off a little when they are done–but you don’t need to
1. Baking in a salt crust requires a lot of salt. Ordinary coarse sea salt is a good choice. It works well and is cheap. Look for a salt, dingy gray in color, that appears damp even in the package:
2. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter a casserole that fits the amount of potatoes you are baking. If the casserole is too big, the salt crust will fall down between the potatoes and the crust will not form a good seal over them Put the potatoes in the casserole–they don’t have to form a single layer–along with the thyme and rosemary, the bits of butter, and the water:
3. Beat the egg whites until they froth:
4. Mix the salt into the egg whites. The texture will be like wet gravel:
5. Spread all of the salt crust over the potatoes, out to the edges of the casserole, to form a tight seal when the crust bakes:
6. Bake the potatoes at 425 F. for 50 minutes. The crust will become very hard:
7. Leave the potatoes under the crust until you are ready to serve them. Crack the crust open and take out the potatoes. Brush them off a little with a pastry brush before putting them on plates–or don’t.
Note: This recipe follows a salt crust technique described in the cooking magazine, Cuisine Actuelle. Baby Potatoes Baked in a Salt Crust is included in the Dinner Menu: A Welcome Dinner for an Out-of-Town Visitor who has Traveled Far. Or….they are edible solace:
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011