Channeling Dad With Potatoes
I knew my father for 16 years. His life was cut way too short at the age of 37; in fact, my kid brother is now older than my father at the time of his death.
A lifetime -- 27 years -- has since passed, one of hopes and dreams both fulfilled and dashed, love lost and found, continents traveled, graduations, jobs, hurricanes, wars, a wedding and plenty of crumbs. I’ve carried on just fine, she says with a stiff upper lip, but inevitably at this time of year, when the rest of America salutes D-A-D with a tie or a new grill toy this Sunday, I get nostalgic for a man who’s been gone since the Reagan administration.
His name was John. He voted for Nixon. He liked to watch the cop show “Hill Street Blues.” His musical tastes ranged from the Village People to Pavarotti. He was a huge fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. And how he loved a hoagie.
In the kitchen, he’d make an occasional appearance, wowing us kids with chocolate milkshakes made with Breyer’s ice cream and French fries made from Idahos which he painstakingly hand cut before plunging into the hot oil.
The rest is blurry, a patchwork quilt of memories that keep me warm, even 27 years later. At times like this, I do wonder about the man he would have become had his heart kept ticking, whether his passion for hand-cut fries would have paved the way for deeper culinary study or what he’d think about my career in food.
For several years, I’ve secretly harbored a fantasy -- that he’d come back, just one for night, and have dinner with me. I could teach him a thing or two about wine, and we’d have wild salmon, something I’m fairly certain he never had the pleasure of tasting. There would be local spinach (a far cry from the creamed variety that my mother dumped on his head in the heat of an argument) and instead of those fries, we’d try something a little easier on the cholesterol, a batch of oven-roasted fries perfumed in garlic and rosemary.
And in case you’re reading, Dad, the kitchen door is always open.
From “Burger Bar” by Hubert Keller with Penelope Wisner
2 pounds unpeeled red, waxy potatoes (Yukon golds or creamers would be equally lovely)
1 head garlic, separated into cloves, unpeeled
2-3 tablespoons duck or goose fat, melted, or extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt to taste
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil, shiny side up, which helps prevent potatoes from sticking. Place tray in hot oven.
Cut potatoes into wedges about ¼ inch thick and place in a large mixing bowl. Add garlic, fat, salt and rosemary, and toss until potatoes are well coated.
Remove hot pan from oven and quickly transfer potatoes to pan, distributing evenly in a single layer. Immediately return pan to oven and lower heat to 450 degrees. Roast until almost fork tender about 30 minutes, and remove pan from oven. Shake pan to help loosen potatoes. Return pan to oven for an additional five minutes, or until fork tender.
Transfer potatoes and aromatics into a serving bowl. Discard rosemary sprigs. Taste for salt, and season as necessary.
Makes 4 servings.
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