I’ve heard the Irish are fond of their potatoes, but I suspect Americans are a close second when bestowing favoritism on tubers. Baked, fried, roasted, or mashed, potatoes are not only a staple, they are comfort food. This is probably what midwife Collie Mercer had in mind as she prepared a celebratory breakfast including fried potatoes for the Welles family to mark the arrival of the newest sibling, John. Not to mention the hearty meal would sustain them on that cold December morning.
Fried potatoes are one of those dishes you learn to prepare by watching your mother or grandmother. Recipes for fried potatoes probably exist but really all one needs is a little know-how. Russets, America’s most popular potato type, are good for frying. I use a mushroom brush to scrub the skins as I rinse them under cold water. You can peel them if you choose. One to two potatoes per person is plenty depending on the appetite of your guests and what else you may be serving.
Cut the potatoes into half-inch chunks and place them in a bowl of salted cold water until the task is complete. This will keep the potatoes from turning an unbecoming shade of gray. Drain the chunks and pat dry.
Grab your cast iron skillet as the non-stick variety will not get hot enough. Peanut oil is the best for frying, but I imagine Collie made hers in butter. When I use butter, it is unsalted. In either case, the skillet should be hot enough that the oil will ripple on the surface without smoking or the butter will melt quickly and bubble.
Add the potatoes but don’t overcrowd the skillet. Brown until crispy on the edges then flip the potatoes and repeat on the other side. You can cover the potatoes at first, but be sure to remove the lid for the last bit of browning or they will be soggy. Garlic, onions, and red or green peppers make tasty additions to this humble dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot. Slices and shreds can be prepared in exactly the same way.