Saturday, December 25, 2004

A brief cooking lesson

To be fair, none of the potential irritation discussed in this piece actually ocurred this year, save for the Rosti itself. Rosti, or a big potato pancake, or shredded potato that isn't fried enough to be a latke, is sort of Swiss. It's sort of any nordic country with a lot of potatoes and butter hanging around. You shred potatoes and mix them with whatever's handy, pressing them into a flat cake, cover the pan and cook at a temperature that's warm enough to make the outside crispy, not black. And not too low, which would make the outside golden but the potato itsef crunchy or mushy.

Here, following, is my lesson to potential Rosti makers just before lunch on Christmas day when somebody says "Michael, why don't you make a Rosti before your mother gets home?"

Rule 1- Take out the cheese. Somebody might say "Don't use too much cheese." Following their exit from the kitchen, use as much as you want. To be exacting, 3/4 cup is just fine, the sharper the better. Any substence described as soft process cheese food is NOT acceptable. But soft goats' cheese is.

Rule 2- Black pepper. Somebody might say "Don't use too much." Use what you think is a reasonable amount, them return to the pepper mill for further grinding, aronud 45 seconds worth. A bland, buttery potato cake fried in butter or oil without pepper is a bland experience indeed.

Rule 3- Salt. A goodly amount. Somebody might try to convince you to use some trademarked substitute such as Mrs. Dash. Send them away. Use salt. See the above bland comment.

Rule 4- Two onions. One would do, yes. But use two.

Rule 5- Some tobasco, if it's available. A few sprinkles. If somebody says "Does it really need that?", answer "Really, who is to say?" while sprinkling.

Rule 6- Rosemary, dried or fresh. And basil, likewise. Summer savory, in a pinch. Go wild. Around a 1/4 cup of your choice. And fresh parsley is a luxury, maybe a 1/4 bunch.

Rule 7- Oh yeah, the potatoes. 4 or 5 good sized, grated, the water squeezed out. And an egg, preferably two, to bind it all.

Rule 8- A straight sided frypan, big enough that the Rosti is not more than an inch or so thick at time of frying. On medium heat, use unsalted butter (best), or olive oil (perfectly acceptable). Use margerine only for true dietary restricitons or if there is a blizzard.

Rule 9- Drop in the potato/egg/cheese/spice mixture, press it down on to the bubbling oil or butter. Cover. Keep covered for 10 minutes. It should smell tasty, not burned. If smelling burned, flip it immediately.

and finally Rule 10- FLipping. Get a plate as big as the frypan, or a bit smaller. Hold it on the pan, flip it over in a manouver that you're sure is going to cause a disaster, and you will find yourself with a plate that has a 1/2 cooked rosti on it. Slide the uncooked side onto the nice hot pan for another 10 minutes. Then flip it onto a plate.

Serve it and feel Swiss. Or German. Or Swedish. Or Danish. Or Scandanavian. Or Estonian. Or Finnish. Or simply, indulged. Maybe some primal German sense memory- I made a Rosti once simply because I was horrified that a local restaurant made one (and a really GOOD one, truth told) for $4.99, which should buy enough Rosti ingredients for a week. I tried it and it's worked every time. And it's damn tasty.

So Merry Christmas. Ok?

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