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Braised Potatoes

A UNIQUE STOVETOP METHOD DELIVERS BOTH CREAMY AND CRISP TEXTURES

We love the versatility of waxy potatoes like Red Bliss. Steamed whole, they turn tender and creamy—perfect canvases for tossing with butter and fresh herbs. They also take well to halving and roasting, which browns their cut surfaces. Braising might seem like an unlikely method for cooking potatoes. (It’s generally reserved for tough cuts of meat.) But it turns out that braising is the best—and possibly the only—way to produce creamy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside red potatoes.

The classic meat braise begins with a hard sear to impart color and flavor. Liquid is added to the pan, which is covered to trap the steam. After many hours, the meat becomes tender and the cooking liquid has been transformed into a lovely sauce.

Adapting this method to potatoes requires some changes if you want a crispy final result. Reversing the browning and steaming steps is a must. When it comes to potatoes, any initial browning gets washed away when liquid is added to the pan. We had far better results simmering the potatoes until tender, and then browning them.

It wasn’t until we borrowed a trick from Chinese potstickers that we solved the biggest problem with cooking potatoes in a pan: sticking. Adding the fat at the outset glosses the potatoes and keeps them from fusing to the pan. Using butter, rather than oil, ensures that the potatoes really brown—the proteins in the milk solids amplify the browning process. Butter also makes the potatoes taste better. And it’s easy to add other flavors like salt, pepper, garlic, and thyme. As unlikely as it sounds, braising might be our favorite way to cook red potatoes.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Simmer First

Braising following the conventional browning-and-simmering method is a bust for potatoes because the flavorful brown color that the potatoes develop during searing gets washed away by the time they cook through in the liquid. A better approach is to simmer, then brown, the potatoes, once the liquid has evaporated. To keep the potatoes from sticking to the pan (and scorching) once the liquid has evaporated, add butter to the cooking liquid at the start of cooking. Oil works too, but butter is much more flavorful.

The Benefits of Overcooking

It takes about 35 minutes for the liquid to cook off while simmering the potatoes. That seems like a long time to cook halved small red potatoes without their turning mushy and crumbled. But don’t worry; low-starch potatoes like Red Bliss exude a fluid gel that keep the potato “glued” together and also gives the impression of extreme creaminess—the gel is called amylopectin. Don’t try this method with starchy potatoes like russets—they contain a higher proportion of a second starch called amylose, which is less sticky, so the potatoes will fall apart during simmering in this recipe.

Add Complementary Flavors

Tossing a few sprigs of thyme into the skilletful of potatoes at the outset is an easy way to add herbal depth. Garlic is a natural partner with potatoes, but it will burn if tossed into the pan when the potatoes are browning. Simmering the whole cloves mellows the garlic bite, and the softened garlic is easy to mince into a paste and stir into finished spuds. A squirt of lemon juice adds brightness and minced chives add fresh oniony flavor.

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Braise the halved potatoes cut side down until tender, then brown them until crisp.

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Braised Red Potatoes with Lemon and Chives

SERVES 4 TO 6

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 10 minutes to prepare ingredients and bring potatoes to simmer
  • 15 minutes to cook potatoes covered
  • 15 to 20 minutes to cook potatoes uncovered (mince garlic while this is happening)
  • 5 minutes to brown and finish potatoes

Essential Tools

  • 12-inch nonstick skillet with lid (Don’t try this recipe in a conventional pan; the potatoes will stick.)

Substitutions & Variations

  • If you prefer, replace the lemon juice with vinegar and finish the potatoes with another fresh herb (parsley or cilantro are particularly good choices).
  • Add a pinch of cayenne pepper to the garlic mixture for a bit of heat.

Use small red potatoes measuring about 1½ inches in diameter.

  • 1½ pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled, halved
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  1. Arrange potatoes in single layer, cut side down, in 12-inch nonstick skillet. Add water, butter, garlic, thyme, and salt and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Remove lid and use slotted spoon to transfer garlic to cutting board; discard thyme. Increase heat to medium-high and vigorously simmer, swirling pan occasionally, until water evaporates and butter starts to sizzle, 15 to 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, mince garlic to paste. Transfer paste to bowl and stir in lemon juice and pepper.
  3. Continue to cook potatoes, swirling pan frequently, until butter browns and cut sides of potatoes turn spotty brown, 4 to 6 minutes longer. Off heat, add chives and garlic mixture and toss to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately.

BRAISED RED POTATOES WITH DIJON AND TARRAGON

Substitute 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard for lemon juice and 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon for chives.

BRAISED RED POTATOES WITH MISO AND SCALLIONS

Reduce salt to ½ teaspoon. Substitute 1 tablespoon red miso for lemon juice and 3 scallions, sliced thin, for chives.

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