Is there anything more comforting than mashed potatoes? They’re warm, they’re creamy, and buttery and smothered in salty sweet gravy. Yes, I’d have to say that if there were any food that could mimic the feeling of a big bear hug or a fluffy down comforter…it would be mashed potatoes.
But in spite of all these warm and fuzzy magical feelings…most mashed potatoes today are sadly uninspired. Just because it’s a potato, doesn’t mean it can’t have character. Yes, butter and cream and salt take the simple ol’ spud pretty far…but doesn’t a food that provides so much joy deserve more?
I got the idea for this recipe from an appetizer I had at a local restaurant. They served cheesy risotto fritters with a sweet and spicy mayonnaise dip. The outside were golden and crunchy (no doubt deep fried) with creamy salty cheesy risotto on the inside. It was like a mozzarella stick with more melty cheese and a lot more crunch. I wanted to try making these at home for the Patriots game this past Sunday…but kickoff was in one hour and I had none of the ingredients or patience on hand. Mashed potatoes would have to do.
I also really wanted to avoid deep frying if I could. I know people often think that tailgating food must necessarily be unhealthy and fried and smothered in sauces or melted cheese. But I feel as if the best way to “participate” in sports is to not stuff our arteries with saturated fats. Honestly people, if we want to scream at our running backs to “RUN RUN RUN” then we should be able to move ourselves, no?
Anyway…back to the recipe…
I started by making basic mashed potatoes, with the skin, and adding roasted garlic, salt, pepper and chopped scallions. Then I formed them into balls and tried to skillet-cook them like meatballs. They ended up looking a lot like pan-seared scallops. The top and bottom were golden and crispy but the sides were un-crunched.
I forgot one of the basic rules of cooking potatoes: the absorb everything! Unless you want french fries…don’t fry potatoes in oil. The inside wasn’t the soft and creamy like I imagined, but crumbly and a little greasy. Yikes!
So instead I tried to bake them. I am always so hesitant about baking anything with breadcrumbs on the outside because 1) it takes so long, and 2) sometimes it doesn’t get crunchy. Like that time I tried to make baked eggplant parm only to get, 30 minutes later, soggy cutlets.
But also like those eggplant cutlets, I eventually learned that the key to crispy “oven-fried” teats is not baking…it’s broiling!
The main difference between baking and broiling is where the heat in the oven comes from. For baking, the heat comes from the bottom on the oven, cooking the items from the bottom up allowing thorough cooking and a hot internal temperature of the food. Broiling, apart from being a tad bit hotter, sends heat from the oven ceiling, allowing the direct heat on the top of the food, uninterrupted by the cookie sheet or pan or whathaveyou, and allowing the outside to brown and crisp up but not necessarily cooking the inside..
By using a combination of baking and broiling I was able to get these mashed potato morsels warm and creamy in the middle, but crunchy and golden on the outside. The other culprit in the crunch? Panko. Yes yes, you absolutely have to use panko breadcrumbs and those regular kind. Panko doesn’t absorb oil the same way, and therefore it keep the outside dry and more likely to get crispy.
The scallions added a perfect onion-y zest and a pop of color and the roasted garlic took the taste experience to a cozy earthy place. I served mine with pesto, because I had it on hand but also the nutty herb flavor complemented the roasted garlic really well. This is one of those recipes designed to transform something we traditional into something unique, so feel free to mix and match with the herbs. Hot sauce, blue cheese, marinara, or BBQ sauce would all be great with this
2-3 Russet potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic
½ cup fat-free half and half or whole milk
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 ½ cups unseasoned panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup chopped scallions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
2. Scrub the potatoes so that the skin is clean and free of dirt
3. Boil the whole potato until thoroughly cooked, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
4. Wrap the garlic cloved in aluminum foil and roast until soft. You can either place them in the oven (about 10 minutes) or place the foil packet over the flame of the gas stove on medium heat (about 5 minutes). When the garlic is cool, mash is with a chefs knife, using the side of the blade and chopping/pressing it until it forms a smooth paste. (Best do this on a cutting board)
5. Cut the potatoes into cubes and mash, ensuring that the skin is broken up into small pieces.
6. Mash in butter and half and half first. Then stir in the roasted garlic, salt, pepper, and chopped scallions.
7. Using your hands, form balls of the potato mixture about the size of meatballs. Roll them thoroughly in the panko breadcrumbs. Place the coated bites on a greased cookie sheet and drizzle the tops with a little canola oil to encourage that crimpy brown crust.
***Cooking Tip: it’s very easy for potatoes to get dry. It test if your have enough moisture, pay attention to your hands as you form the balls. If the potato mixture leaves a gritty, starch film on your hands then the mixture is too dry. Add for milk or half and half, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mix is moist but firm enough to form a ball. If the mix leaves a slightly wet feeling on your hands but the balls still hold their shape, the mix is perfect! If you think your potato mixture is too wet, add instant mashed potato mix or let the mix sit uncovered for a few minutes. Potatoes are natural absorbers, so they will take up a lot of liquid if given time.
8. Bake for about 7-10 minutes, until the tops are slightly golden.
9. Switch the oven to broil and cook for another 5-7 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Baking and then broiling allows the outside to get crispy while also ensuring the inside gets nice and hot, much the way a deep fryer does but using much less oil).
10. Serve immediately with your favorite dips and dressings
(PS: Next time…I may try them with sweet potatoes! Yum!)