The subject of home fries may not be an important one, but it certainly garners plenty of opinions. Once the chopped spuds get to the plate, there’s not much middle ground. They’re either ignored by the breakfast eater, who prefers just eggs, toast, and bacon, or they’re gobbled up as integral to the meal.
At Deep Ellum in Allston, the kitchen might go through 75 to 100 pounds of potatoes on a weekend and they’re rarely left behind. “When we started having brunch, we had to have home fries,” says chef and co-owner Rian Wyllie. “It’s a classic breakfast side.” The small chunks of potatoes are coated with sweet paprika, black pepper, garlic, oregano, and salt.
Home fries are one of those simple foods that can be prepared a number of ways. Choices include the kind of potatoes to use (typically russet or red), cooking fat (oil, butter, duck or bacon fat), how they’re cooked (griddle, skillet, oven), whether the potatoes are boiled first (most say it’s best if they are), what spices to use, and what else to toss in the pan (onion, bell pepper, poblanos, bacon).
Potatoes, in general, are like a blank canvas. “I enjoy something that’s supposed to be boring and doing something with it,” says Brian Poe, executive chef and co-owner of Estelle’s, The Tip Tap Room, and Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, all in Boston. For home fries, the chef uses russets, which are baking potatoes, which he considers kitchen workhorses. “You can abuse them,” he says, unlike more tender, buttery Yukon Golds and slender fingerlings.
If you chop and boil them first, says Poe, as he does at Estelle’s, a Southern-style restaurant on Tremont Street, “it gets rid of that sticky starchiness.” He leaves the skins on, then quickly fries them for a little crispness. On the restaurant’s flat-top griddle, nuggets are tossed with Cajun spices, onions, and bell peppers, and cooked until crisp on the outside, soft inside. At The Tip Tap Room on Cambridge Street, chunks are deep-fried and tossed with basil, crushed red pepper, paprika, and mesquite- smoked salt.
Poe grew up in Georgia and thinks of himself as “more of a hash brown kid.” Hash browns are typically shredded potatoes crisped on the griddle, often shaped into rounds like potato pancakes. Browned shreds and chunks can also be left messy, he says. When tossed with bits of leftover meat, you’ve got meat-and-potato hash, a filling and satisfying plateful often topped with a fried or poached egg.
Like Poe, most chefs cook the potatoes twice, either boiling them initially or roasting them before browning. “It’s harder to make sure they’re cooked through if you start from raw,” says Steve “Nookie” Postal, chef and owner of Commonwealth, the new restaurant and market in Kendall Square (see review, Page 14). “The second cooking gets them crispy.” For Sunday brunch, the chef roasts russet wedges coated with duck fat, then cuts them into small pieces, deep-fries them, and tosses them with shallots, bell pepper, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and a bit of butter. “It’s just an orgy of terrible things for you,” says Postal, who was executive chef at Fenway Park for six years. While home fries should not be dripping with fat, they do taste and brown better when there’s enough of it in the pan.
When customers at Somerville’s Neighborhood Restaurant and Bakery ask to substitute vegetables for the potatoes, says manager Sheila Borges-Foley, “It’s usually a diet or low-carb thing.” Their popular home fries are made with russets, onions, and peppers, and seasoned with paprika, onion, garlic powder, and salt. This time of year, the family-owned breakfast and lunch spot adds sweet potatoes to the mix, says Borges-Foley. “It’s something different. Why not?”
Wyllie makes his Deep Ellum home fries with red bliss potatoes that are boiled as chunks with skins intact, then he tosses them in spices and browns them on the flat-top in canola oil. The chef doesn’t add onions or bell peppers. “If you put onions in them, you get people who ask for them without onions.”
A final word on the subject: Don’t throw away leftover home fries. They’re perfect for a one-skillet meal with chopped, cooked veggies, leftover meat, eggs, beans, or whatever other hodgepodge appeals to you.