Eggs and Potatoes

Eggs and potatoes are significant part of my diet and a frequent evening meal. The other night it was pan-fried potatoes and chard omelets. Don’t laugh: spinach and eggs is classic, and chard can do anything spinach can do. I won’t rave about them, but they were tasty enough. I like making omelets; I confess, though, that my hand-flip technique is poor – bashful, really. I don’t commit enough to the forward swoop, so omelets that close as tidy as a clam are rare. The other night I just cut to the chase and broke out the spatula.

I want to praise the eggs – my ingredients, not my cooking. We are luck enough to live down the street from a genuine organic, free-range chicken farm. It’s run by neighbors who have full-time off-farm careers and an active, beautiful family, but they’re hardcore farmers nonetheless. They keep a few dozen chickens, plus assorted ducks and geese, and do some vegetable farming as well. They supply us with all of our eggs at $4 a dozen, and it’s a steal. The eggs are organic, meaning that the chickens are fed organic feed and not juiced up on antibiotics, and although one might say accurately say the chickens are free-range, the chickens are allowed a range of freedom many household pets would envy, making the term somewhat inadequate in application here. Every day the chickens and other fowl are let out of the barn to roam, and roam they do, but never stray, as no matter how much bugs and grass the chickens take in on their own, the spell of their feed keeps them in thrall: they slowly spread out pecking as the day begins, by midday they seem to reach the limits of their exploration, and they then turn and begin to peck slowly back to the barn to gather for their evening feed.

Since the barn is only about forty yards downhill from Fiddlers Creek Road, the chickens and company frequently peck their way up into the street, particularly as there’s a drainage ditch across the street which is a favorite for bathing. One white goose has taken a leadership role in guiding chickens across the street to the ditch. It’s not unusual to spy her at the edge of the black top craning her neck one direction and the other looking for cars while one by one chickens strut up behind her to wait. Once across the street, the goose marches back and forth along the ditch, tensing up and checking on her wards every time a car comes by. I’m aware of only one chicken death by car. Given the number of foxes and coyotes around, the sparse local traffic is hardly the worst of their worries.

Lovely eggs

Lovely eggs

In any case, as you can see from the eggs, the chickens are a diverse brood, and we get eggs whose shells range in color from white to brown to greenish blue to pink. And the yolks are deeper and brighter in color than store-bought eggs, even ones that come labeled as free-range.

We occasionally get duck eggs, a rare treat. The duck eggs are larger, creamier, and a little stronger tasting than the chicken eggs. I love to have them scrambled, though fried they’re a little too chewy and rubbery for me to enjoy completely.

As for the greens, we’re in the second season, as every fall the lettuce, spinach, arugula, cabbage greens, and others make their reappearance in our CSA farm share. It’s a pleasure to greet them again, though that pleasure is not as intense and enthusiastic as it is when they first come around in the spring after a winter’s worth of dull, limp store-bought rations of greenhouse chard and raab. It becomes more of a chore to invent ways to prepare the bounty in the fall, especially as it can be overwhelming at times, but I remind myself that it’s not going to be longer than a month until I’ll be feeling that bounty’s absence. So chard omelets it was, and although maybe a couple bites felt a little more virtuous than delicious, without the chard it would have been just eggs with a little bit of cheese and therefore not nearly as good.

The potatoes are part of the bounty that comes earlier in the season. We’re practically overwhelmed with fingerlings, new potatoes, boilers, and bakers right up through July. They stockpile, and not because I’m thinking ahead, but because they don’t get cooked. I love potatoes, but our staple starches are rice and pasta: they’re much quicker and easier to cook. Peeling’s a bitch. And I have to plan well in advance to get the oven preheated in time to let baking potatoes get their full hour and not hold dinner up until the evening’s nearly done. So really only thin-skinned new potatoes and boilers make the grade, and even there I’m challenged to find quick and easy ways to prepare the potatoes for dinner if I’m not just going to chop them up and toss them into a soup.

So to go with the omelet was a take on Potatoes Anna that showed up in the New York Times Magazine. Potatoes Anna is a simple potato dish that has you slice up a bunch of new potatoes (and the recipes all seem to say peel them, but I’m no fool: peeling’s too much work, and it throws out most of the nutritional value with the skin) and cook them layered with butter in a skillet over low heat until they fuse together into a brown tart. Some recipes have you pour some stock or milk over the potatoes, and I imagine that might help distribute the heat and produce a more uniformly cooked potato dish, but likely at the expense of the fatty crusty that you get at the bottom and sides from the butter. I’ve never tried it that way. I’ve never been super-thrilled with my efforts either.

The Times recipe had a mash of garlic, salt, and butter spread in the middle as you’re layering the potato slices: much better in theory than execution. Next time I might brown some butter in advance, then reserve a portion to mix with some mashed garlic, as the semisolid butter/garlic mixture didn’t really spread. And as my efforts at Potatoes Anna has never really yielded a nice cohesive tart so much as a jumble of overcooked and undercooked potatoes slices, I was relieved that the Times recipe absolved me of that goal, having me flip the mass onto a plate after about eight minutes then slide it undercooked side down back into the pan for another eight. Yeah, you try place a plate over a cast-iron skillet filled with hot butter and potatoes and flip it that ensemble without spilling some butter out. Not just a mess, but a dangerous mess.

So definitely not tart-like in the end, but the potatoes were evenly cooked, with top and bottom layers browned beautifully and cooked nicely all the way through. And the addition of the garlic was quite nice. I’m adding paprika to the next go around, but I think I’ll just jam the spatula in to flip the stuff.



Filed under cooking

2 responses to “Eggs and Potatoes

  1. Heather

    Potatoes Anna was an exotic French delicacy – this is Australia in the 1980s, remember – that I started trying my hand at as a teenager. But my recipe, from the Australian Women’s Weekly Original Cookbook, 1970 edition, said to bake, rather than skillet. That might help with the close-packed tart goal, and, with the right baking dish, you can get some really good crispiness.

    And a question – are you up to apples in your farmshare portions yet? I had my first fall apple on Friday. Delicious (but not red – I think it might have been a winesap).

    I’m enjoying reading about your adventures, Donald!


  2. woodthrush

    The baking thing would be the obvious solution, right? My first try was Deborah Madison’s version in her omnibus vegetarian cookbook, and that was in the frypan on the stove, and then I researched recipes for the blog post on-line and they were all rangetop too, so I assumed that’s the classic approach. I wonder why? To tell you the truth, if I’m going to bake layered potatoes, it’s going to be scalloped. Mmmm. I think I just came up with dinner for tonight.

    Our farm doesn’t do fruit, so our shares start to dwindle away in October with squash season. For apples, though, there’s always Princeton’s Terhune Orchards. Cider donuts, man.

    And thanks for breaking the virgin comment barrier, Heather.


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