I’ve never had Syracuse Salt Potatoes in Syracuse
The first time I had Salt Potatoes wasn’t in Syracuse, New York. Indeed, I’ve never had Syracuse Salt Potatoes in Syracuse. No, the first time I had what I think might be one of the finest treatments of the spud ever, I was at River Bar in Somerville, Massachusetts. River Bar had a chef from the Tri-State area: the menu had regional dishes with Taylor Ham, a few other entries I can’t remember, and Salt Potatoes.
Are you sh*tting me?
Anyhow, intrigued, I ordered the Salt Potatoes. When they arrived, I thought, Are you sh*tting me? You brought me dusty boiled potatoes and are charging me money for them? My face must have said it all, because the bartender watched me as I took a bite. And then another. I looked at him in wonder. He said, “Everyone acts like that when they order these.”
Salt Potatoes are SO good!
Dear Reader, I promise that I’m not just giving you a recipe for ordinary boiled potatoes. If you haven’t had Salt Potatoes before, you are going to be thanking the good people of Syracuse, because these potatoes are just the sh*t. They could not be easier to make, and they are ready in a flash. Make them, you will, again and again, because they are so, so, SO GOOD!
And the wildest thing of all? They aren’t even all that salty. They come out perfectly seasoned, and, with a little drawn butter and some fresh chopped herbs, these creamy little potatoes will have you going back for seconds. Don’t worry—this small-batch recipe allows for this.
Syracuse “Salt City” and the origin of Syracuse Salt Potatoes
While the typical story goes that Syracuse New York was known as “Salt City” because it had salt mines, this isn’t true. According to the Onondaga Historical Society, Syracuse got its moniker from its salt springs, which made it a major supplier of salt through the nineteenth century.
Workers in the salt industry would boil potatoes in brine and serve them with melted butter. And we are forever in their debt. Someday I may make a pilgrimage to the Salt Potatoes historical marker and lay a salt potato there in thanks.
Why Salt Potatoes don’t wind up a salt lick
When you see the amount of salt called for, you might reflexively reach for blood-pressure medication, but these really aren’t salty. What happens is that the salt raises the boiling point and so the potatoes cook faster. The thin salt crust on the outside of the potato protects the inside. The result is a little bit of salt on the skin, and the creamiest potato you’ve ever had on the inside. I’ll confess to being a salt hound, but one of my testers decidedly isn’t. She was skeptical when I told her about them, but she loved them. If they weren’t too salty for her, I’m guessing they aren’t too salty for you.
Start with small, red-skinned potatoes—with skin intact
You can make these with other potatoes, but the ones that I had the first time were red-skinned potatoes, and my understanding is that they are the most traditional. You want them on the small side and relatively uniform in size. I found some nice potatoes at Moulton’s Farm in New Hampshire.
Most importantly, your need to still have the skin intact (the potatoes I had were flaky, but the skin was solid). If the skin isn’t intact, then all that salt will seep through, and you will have something inedible.
You’re going to need a lot of salt
For roughly ten ounces (.25 kg) of potatoes, you’re going to need a half-cup of kosher salt (144 grams), and you could even do more—some recipes call for table salt. Yes, it really is that much. No, you shouldn’t cut it. Trust.
You add this to enough water to cover your potatoes and stir it until the salt dissolves. Make sure to use a pot that isn’t prone to pitting. Then add the potatoes and turn on the heat.
Add the potatoes and let ‘er boil until fork tender
The only trick of this recipe is to not over cook or undercook the potatoes. Bring the potatoes and salt water to a boil—you’ll see salt rings form where the water splashes. Cook them until they are fork tender, but not mushy. This takes about 15 minutes after they come to a boil, but it depends the size of your potatoes. Keep an eye on them.
Once your potatoes are cooked, there’s a little trick. You drain them, and then put them back in the pot to dry out while you melt your butter. They’ll dry out and get that salty crust of wonderfulness on them.
Then you simply, chop some herbs, sprinkle those over the potatoes and either pour melted butter (I was going to say drizzle, but we’re being generous with the butter here), or dip your potato in a little dish of melted butter (my personal preference). Roll your eyes heavenward at the creaminess of that potato and thank Syracuse.
Small-Batch Syracuse Salt Potatoes
- 10 ounces small red-skinned potatoes, skins intact It's very important that the skins are intact so that the salt doesn't penetrate and make them inedible.
- ½ cup kosher salt You could use more here, but not more than a ¼ cup extra
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- 2 tsp herbs, chopped optional I used flat-leafed parsley and thyme
- In a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients and boil, add the water and then the salt. Stir until the salt has dissolved½ cup kosher salt
- Add the potatoes and bring to a boil on high. Once roiling, reduce the heat so that the pot doesn't boil over and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, taking care to not overcook the potatoes10 ounces small red-skinned potatoes, skins intact
- Drain the potatoes and return immediately to the pot they were cooked in to allow the crust to form. As the potatoes dry, wiggle the pot so that they dry evenly
- Meanwhile, melt the butter2 tbsp butter, melted
- To serve, either pour the melted butter over the potatoes and sprinkle with the chopped herbs, or, my preference, sprinkle with the herbs and then dip the potatoes into a small dish of melted butter. Thank the good salt industry workers of Syracuse for their gift to the world2 tsp herbs, chopped optional
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