Sunday, July 03, 2005

Recipe: Barbecued Potatoes

I never would have believed it! I figured that if you tried to ‘barbecue’ a baked potato, you’d either get a lump of charcoal, or a tooth breaking cold center, or you’d have to steam them in foil. But Nooooo . . . oh grill-breath; another possibility exists . . .

This came about because my daughter wanted steak and baked potato and the temperature was about 90 and the humidity even higher. And I was not about to run the oven (at Any temperature!) for an hour or two for Anybody. But daughters are, well, you know . . . So, what to do, what to do . . .

Duh. Parboil the suckers! But wait. That will only get the outside started; the center will still be rock hard. Hmmmmm.

Anyway, this is what evolved, and has since been repeated repeatedly!

You’ll need:
1 potato per serving
onion powder
garlic powder
coarse salt
olive oil

The stuff

Here’s how you do it . . .

Put your favorite teakettle on to boil, and set out a saucepan large enough to hold all your potatoes (which will be cut in half in a minute).

Scrub your potatoes clean and then slice them in half lengthwise to make the flattest pieces rather than the thickest pieces.

Slice yer spuds

Toss them cut side down into your saucepan and ‘parblanch’ them. That means pour the boiling water over the potatoes and cover the pot. Let them sit for 5 – 7 minutes. (Oh, and this would be a good time to pre-heat your grill.)


For two skinny little spuds, 5 minutes will be fine; for a bucket full of ½ lb. Russets, at least 7. But 7 is about the limit because by then, the water will have cooled down too much to do the ‘parblanching’ thing, and you’ll just be stewing your potatoes. If you really need to grill potatoes for a few hundred, try making two shallow slices (with your thinnest blade knife) just down either side of the center line of the cut face of each potato half. Start and stop your slit about 1” from each end. The idea is to let the boiling water get into the center of the potato as well as on its surface.

When the potatoes have had their bath, drain off the hot water and dump them into an ice bath. Just like with other vegetables, the ‘shocking’ by the ice bath stops the cooking, firms up the texture and improves the ‘look’ of your potatoes. Leave them in the ice just long enough so that when you pick one up and hold it for 30 seconds, it no longer feels ‘hot;’ vaguely warm is OK, but not ‘hot.’

Oooooh, icy!

Dry the potatoes (air, paper towels, kitchen towel . . .) and set them cut side up on a plate or three. You want plenty of space around each piece so you can get you fingers in between them without rubbing against their neighbors.

Sprinkle the cut sides lightly with the onion powder (1st), the garlic powder (2nd), then the paprika and then a few grinds of Tellicherry. Now, drizzle a tiny streamlet of olive oil down the length of each potato. Try to do a serpentine pattern rather than a straight line, but in any case, make it a very thin line. You don’t want to ‘wash off’ any of the spices.

OK, so I sloshed a little

When the oil is on, prepare to get messy (like set out a paper towel or two within easy reach, move stuff out of the way so you can get to the sink to wash your hands without spattering soap all over your food, things like that . . .)

Now ‘pat out’ the oil on the surface of each piece. You want oil to cover the entire cut surface, but you can’t rub because that will just rub off all the spices. So try to do little light ‘patty cake patty cake’ taps to spread out the oil over the spices. Don’t get obsessive, you’re about to turn the potatoes over onto the cut sides anyway; but try to leave as much of the seasoning evenly distributed under the oil as possible.

So. Turn ‘em over. Don’t slide ‘em around, just turn ‘em over and give each piece a little ‘pat down’ over its surface. Then turn ‘em face up again. The whole point of this exercise is just to get some oil and spice (the ‘excess’ from the surfaces) onto the plate so you can spread it around the skin side(s) of the potatoes.

So do it. Get your fingertips down there into the oil-spice mixture on the plate; squeeze up a pinch and spread it around. You want a nice oily coating all over the outsides of the potatoes.

Well oiled potatoes

Now wash your hands.

And after they’re dry (your hands, that is), sprinkle precisely 23 ¼ (or whatever your magic number of the moment might be) grains of coarse (Kosher) salt evenly across the surface of each potato. You don’t want to ‘salt’ the potatoes, you just want to add one more zingy component to the flavor. And, you have to wait until the potatoes are oiled to add the salt, otherwise the salt will just dissolve in the moisture of the potato and you will have simply salted your potatoes instead of making them Sing! (The coarse salt will not dissolve in the oil.)

Put ‘em on the grill

When the grill is pre-heated, turn the heat down to medium or medium-low and put the potatoes, cut side up, on the (lower) warming rack(s) of the grill. Close the cover and twiddle your thumbs for about 20 minutes. Then, turn the potatoes over, cut side down, close the cover, and keep on twiddling for another 5 – 10 minutes. Now turn the taters cut side up again, and finish the cooking – probably another 15 or 20 or 30 minutes.

Bbcue spuds, ready-to-eat

Serve ‘em up and enjoy! We’ve now done them, with steaks, ribs, chicken, and salmon, and they’ve worked well with each. But do keep the spice/oil/salt stages separate. I’ve tried 23 variations of mixing one, some, all of the spice(s) with oil and then just rubbing, rolling, soaking, dipping, the potatoes in the mixture(s) to try to simplify the process. And while some of those experiments have resulted in edible outcomes, none have matched the glory of the ‘proper’ barbecued potato. So do it ‘right,’ have some fun, and then enjoy!

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