For my part, I always feel lucky when there are potatoes in the refrigerator. Sometimes they are leftovers: the four or five roasted ones left over from a roast, which somehow nobody got to; a half bowl of mashed, now two days in the refrigerator and beginning to crust over; two big reds, rolling around in the vegetable compartment, enough to take up space but not enough to cook; uneaten Idaho bakers, in whole or part. Whatever form they take, they are in my opinion the easiest to use, the most enjoyable, and the most satisfying kind of leftover.
Since there are so many forms of the loveable tuber, let’s go through them one by one.
Bakers are the gift that keeps on giving. The insides are firm enough to eat straight up, but pliable enough that you can make things out of them. Nearly every steakhouse you have ever been to uses bakers for hash browns. They are starchy, so they hold together well; there is more potato to skin than any other potato; and they are obviously easy to cook. There’s an old insult used in kitchens, in fact: “he could screw up a baked potato.”
Use: The best gnocchi I’ve ever eaten were made by Marco Canora, using little but baked potatoes and flour. But as you can see from the video I made about them, they take a lot of time, space, and skill. Since I have none of those three things, I go for hash browns.
You can use any pan for these, but they’re best in a nonstick skillet or, failing that, an old, well-seasoned cast iron pan. Let the potato cool completely; a night in the refrigerator is best. Cut it up coarsely; salt well.
In a medium sized skilled, melt two tablespoons of butter, and slowly saute some coarsely cut peppers and onions. Move them around and allow them to soften. Cut the potatoes up coarsely and add them in, moving frequently so they are coated with butter. Smush the potatoes down with a spatula, set the heat on medium-low, and walk away. 20 minutes later you’ll be able to flip a big brown pancake.
Little whole potatoes are too good to shape, smash, or otherwise mangle. Being a brute, I like to eat them cold with a little salt, the way you would eat an apple. My wife’s method is almost as simple minded: she pops them in the microwave for a couple of minutes, and presses them just hard enough to break the skin and puts a pat of butter on top.
Use: If I have time, I like to split them, crush them slightly, and then roast them in copious amounts of olive oil. You can flavor the oil with whatever you want – I like garlic and rosemary. But the main thing is to turn them often and cook them in a hot (450) oven. When they come out, let them cool a little and grate some parmesan on them. This method, more or less, has become wildly popular in New York restaurants, since it was introduced by superchef Michael White.
Leftover mashed potatoes are hard to get rid of. I won’t lie to you. There are a bunch of things you can do with them, like rolling them into little balls, breading them, and freezing them into makeshift tater tots. Rachael has a good one for crispy mashed potato pancakes. Other home cooks will use them for shepherd’s pie, or even mousakka. I can’t say than any of these satisfy my primal mashed-potato urges.
Use: Personally, I like to make a kind of creamy pudding with them, mixing in cream cheese or parmesan or even cheddar – really, whatever I happen to have in the house. You need some chopped scallions in there, just for a little color or texture, but there’s nothing more satisfying on a cold day. I actually like these better than fresh mashed potatoes.
Looking for more leftover recipes? Try these: