Potatoes are terrible at picking up liquid seasonings. That’s why things like home fries are usually just seasoning with powdered salt and spices. The problem is that the potato skins block liquid seasonings from entering into the potato. Even if you cut them into cubes, the waxy flesh of the potato tends to ward off any liquids until they get crisp. That’s why I like to boil and smash my potatoes before pan-frying them.
By smashing whole small potatoes flat, it creates conduits for your seasoning to enter. It’s the same reason why you squish the sides of a baked potato before you add your butter and other condiments.
The other benefit of smashing potatoes is that potatoes are round, which means they make very little contact with the surface of the pan when you try to brown them. By flattening them, it greatly increases the contact patch with the pan, allowing you to get the skins nice and crisp!
I suppose the only drawback of this method is that depending on the type of potatoes you use, their ability to hold themselves together can vary. I’ve found that waxy potatoes like small red skinned and purple skinned ones tend to work the best, but starchier potatoes like these tend to absorb the butter and soy sauce flavors better, so it’s a trade-off. Smashed potatoes aren’t going to win any beauty pageants, but given the choice between beautiful and tasty, I’d pick tasty any day.
As for the flavor combo, the butter, along with a drizzle of soy sauce at the end is truly a match made in heaven: nutty, savory and loaded with umami. This also works really well with duck fat, or olive oil along with some herbs and aromatics like rosemary and garlic.
Butter Soy Sauce Smashed Potatoes
Smashing whole potatoes create entry points for seasoning to enter when cooking them. (Recipe Credit: Marc Matsumoto of Fresh Tastes)
- 450 grams small potatoes
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- Scrub the potatoes well and then put them in a pot with enough water to cover the potatoes by an inch. Generously salt the water and then boil the potatoes until they are tender when you insert a toothpick or fork. Drain the potatoes and let the skins dry out a bit.
- Place the potatoes on a flat surface and use the bottom of a plate to smash them so they are about two-thirds of their original thickness.
- Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the smashed potatoes. Fry on one side until golden brown and then flip and fry the other side.
- When the second side is golden and crisp, drizzle the soy sauce evenly over the potatoes and flip them once to coat evenly. They are done when all the liquid has evaporated and the potatoes are coated with a crisp crust of caramelized soy sauce.
Yield: 4 servings (as a side dish)
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.