Salt Potatoes

I went to college in Syracuse, NY (yes, I am an Orangewoman) and spent a couple of lazy hard-working, class-attending summers there, making up classes that I blew off  during the semester earning extra credit towards my degree.  In addition to that wacky glowing yellow ball in the sky, lazy afternoons at Green Lakes and no lines at Chuck’s, summer brings a fabulous bounty to Central New York: the salt potato.

Salt potatoes have a mystique all their own, especially to those who grew up or spent some time in Central New York.  Maybe it’s the salt: salt was mined heavily in the region in the 1800’s (and still is today), hence, the origin of the salt potato (Irish salt miners would throw potatoes in boiling salt water vats as a convenient lunch); maybe it’s the potatoes (perhaps potatoes grown in the salty, mineraly earth of Syracuse have a flavor all their own? terroir, anyone? ); maybe it’s just the special bag o’ spuds & salt from Wegman’s; whichever way you slice it, that authentic salt potato taste can be difficult to recreate when you are away from CNY. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. Why? Because salt potatoes are deeelicious, my friends.

Salt potatoes are classic backyard barbecue fare in a Central New York summer.  They’re easy, relatively quick, and require only three ingredients: salt, potatoes, and butter.  They are good eaten hot or cold and massive amounts of them will disappear, right before your very eyes, with everyone wondering how boiled, salty potatoes can be so fabulous.  Who knows? I try not to question the mysteries of the universe – I’m just thankful for them. There are a few rules for approximating the authentic flavor of Syracuse salt potatoes: 1). Whites or browns only – no reds need apply (nor purples!). You really need small, new white- or brown-skinned potatoes; many people try to use red potatoes as they are easiest to find small, but the skins are too thin and the flesh is not the right texture. You end up with overly salty, mushy boiled potatoes without the fabulous crispy skin.  2). Salt and lots of it! Most people are appalled when they see the amount of salt I add to salt potatoes; really, quite a lot of it stays in the water or on the pot.  But yes, folks, these are salt potatoes; while they don’t taste excessively salty, the skins get crispy because of a layer of crackly salt. This is not food for the hypertensive in your life. Low-sodium salt potatoes are an oxymoron.  3). Butter is for dipping only. I’ve seen recipes that call for pouring melted butter over the potatoes once cooked; that defeats the purpose of the crispy, crackly skin (which gets soggy once it sits around in melted butter for a while), and, as the potatoes cool, the butter congeals; cold salt potatoes dipped into hot, melted butter = delicious. Cold salt potatoes coated in congealed, cold butter = nasty.

Below is my recipe for salt potatoes; it’s as authentic as I can get it without spending 4 hours in the car to hit up the Wegman’s on Erie Boulevard.  Bring some to a summer party this weekend – you’ll surely be invited back!

—————————————————————

Salt Potatoes

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 quarts water
  • about 1 lb salt (about 1 and 1/2 cups table salt or 2 cups Kosher salt)
  • 4 lbs new, brown- or white-skinned potatoes, as small as possible, scrubbed, skin on
  • about 4 oz butter

METHODS

  1. Bring water and salt to boil in a large stockpot (you should still see visible salt crystals on the bottom of the pot; if not, add more salt until you can see at least a small amount of non-dissolved salt on the bottom of the pan).  Add potatoes, replace cover briefly to return the salt water to a boil, then uncover and boil until potatoes until just fork tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain and allow to sit in the open air for a few minutes, to develop a nice salt crust on the skin (and too cool off from their nuclear temperature).
  2. Melt butter in a small serving bowl.  When ready to serve, transfer potatoes to a large bowl and serve hot.  Eat with your fingers, dipped into melted butter, until you swear you cannot fit just one more – then eat one more. 

Yields more than you should eat, but never, ever enough.

OPTIONS

  1. There are none. This is the one and only authentic way to eat salt potatoes: no snipped herbs, no cracked pepper, no truffles, olive oil or Hawaiian salt; and for Heaven’s sake no red potatoes!  Blasphemy.  And really, even this isn’t authentic because I can’t buy the “salt potatoes” bag at Wegman’s and my potatoes are really too big. But it’s as close as I’m gonna get.

STORE

Salt potatoes are actually quite good cold and would last refrigerated for several days, I assume. There have never been any leftovers; I doubt there ever will.

SEASON

Summer!

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18 comments

  1. Kim

    OK, I have to say, I had never even heard of salt potatos until one of your summer parties. Those things rocked my socks off and I’ve been raving about them since. Never actually made them, though they are on my ‘ultimate summer bbq’ food list!!

  2. Donna Vines

    These I have to try. I have never even heard of salt potatoes before but they sound so sinful I just have to go for it.

  3. You are a woman after my heart. I went to school at SUNY ESF and have learned the fine cuisine that is the salt potato. I’ve never tried to make them myself (I still live in Central NY and just buy the lovely bags of potatoes and salt!), but I’m glad you are spreading the word. And I will have to keep this potato/salt ratio in mind if I ever find myself away from the area and in need of a salt potato fix.

    And I can SO relate to all your Syracuse comments. How I love Chuck’s…

  4. Kaytee – you were a Stumpy?!? Now that brings back memories. I lived in Stadium dorm for a year – many friends among your brethren.

    And, yes, peeps, seriously – TRY THESE. There is a reason people go on obsessively about them.

  5. My roommate from Oswego, NY introduced me to these during college – I was concerned about the amount of salt involved, convinced it would be way too much. It was not. I love them. I haven’t thought about these in years!

  6. Oy, this is so neat and so strange at the same time! I’ve never heard of salted potatoes before, but salt, butter, and potatoes is a delicious combo–this looks like a refreshing way of combining the flavors ;D

  7. Laura

    Question? In all the potato cooking advice I have seen you put the potatos in COLD water and bring to boil to avoid overcooked outer portion of the tater and undercooked center. What say you?

  8. Hi Laura,

    I’ve seen that advice for cooking potatoes in cold water, but honestly never done it; does not make much sense to me. Potatoes will cook from the outside in regardless; allowing them the sit in the water as it warms to a boil doesn’t seem advantageous to me.

    For true salt potatoes, you really just need, young, small potatoes; Yukons would work, as long as they are quite small. I have seen many recipes that call for fingerlings; it would be considered blasphemy in Syracuse, but I often blaspheme. 🙂 I haven’t tried it though, so I can’t really say. However, if you try it out, come back and let us know!

  9. Steph

    I’m originally from Rochester, and now live on Long Isand. I go to bbqs and no one can ever get it right. Hosting my very first BBQ today, and found your recipe, and all I can say is THANK YOU. Sadly this part of NY hasn’t caught on to the awesomeness that is Wegmans, so finding that “salt potato” bag has been impossible… Can’t wait to introduce my new friends down here to the wonderful world of salt potatoes!

  10. Laura

    My sister is making these for me as I SPEAK! I was curious as to where they came from so I did a little digging. Thanks so much for the background. And… You are HYSTERICAL! I was reading this to my sister and the whole time we’re saying, “We need to be friends with this person!” We’re raising a glass to you and wishing you were here to enjoy these little bad-boys with us.

  11. Nancy

    If you ever do find yourself with leftovers…cube then and fry with chopped onion in bacon grease until brown and crispy. I was born and raised in Syracuse and have lived in SC and Missouri. My older brother has lived in Michigan, Maryland and Colorado. No one outside CNY has heard of salt potatoes or coneys. Whenever our parents come to visit we insist that they put a bag of salt potatoes in their luggage and there have even been times they have brought a cooler full of Heid’s coneys.

  12. Bonnie Lewis

    Had relatives stop in a few weeks ago from South Carolina on the way to Vermont. She and her family had never had salt potatoes either. We made some and they loved them. Sent a bag on to Vermont with them.

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