One of the biggest drawbacks to running a daily cafe in corporate dining is that you have the same customer base each and every day of the week. That’s great, when it comes to cooking food you know your customers like, but not so great when it comes to keeping ideas fresh and changing regularly. No one wants to eat the same sides more than once or maybe twice a week, so I’m constantly trying to come up with new ways to cook familiar dishes.
In the cafe, I normally offer 2 entrees, 1 or 2 starches, 4 vegetables and a hot dessert on the line each day at lunch. Mashed or creamed potatoes are a customer favorite. They would probably love to eat my mashed potatoes the same way EVERY day, but my creative mind won’t let me put out the same food like that. Because my grocery company missed our scheduled delivery last Thursday, Friday’s menu had to be changed last minute to include food I had in stock. We normally offer fish on Fridays but seeing as I had no fish in stock, we ended up serving country-fried pork chops. Well, pork chops didn’t go with the rice pilaf I was planning to offer with the fish; they called for some good ole country mashed potatoes. Since I’d already served mashed potatoes twice last week (on different days), I had to fire up the creative juices and come up with something a little different. That’s how this recipe came about and this recipe was incredible. My customers bought all the potatoes and I caught my dishwasher scraping the empty pan with his fingers before washing it, so I figured I’d share this “hit” with you. It’s really quite simple so I’m omitting the steps where you boil your potatoes and starting the recipe where I started it. Give this a try sometime and I think you’ll be as impressed as my customers were.
First, I boiled unpeeled russet potatoes (I wanted a smashed effect rather than I mashed effect, so I cleaned them well but left the skins in tact).
Once the potatoes are cooked (until tender) and drained, put them in a large bowl. With the back of a serving spoon, mash the potatoes so that they have some larger “chunks” in them for this country-style recipe. Set the potatoes aside and work on the gravy (which can be made while the potatoes are cooking if you’re multi-talented in the kitchen).
For the gravy:
- 4 tbsp fat (bacon grease, butter or oil, your choice)
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 4 tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 cups milk, scalded
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp salt
In a large skillet or a saucepan, heat the fat over medium high heat. Saute the onion until tender, then add the flour and cook into a roux, stirring constantly, until the mixture is a light tan color. Whisk in the scalded milk and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of basic biscuit gravy (which is really all this is). Add the salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Pour as much of the gravy into your smashed potatoes to get a soupy wet, loose mashed potato (it will thicken as it sits). At this point, taste the potatoes and adjust seasonings to your taste. You can add some snipped chives or some Parmesan cheese, or even some roasted garlic if you prefer. If for any reason you over-pour the gravy and get your potatoes too loose, you can thicken them back up by sprinkling some flour over them and stirring well (old kitchen trick that works in the recipe because you have a flour based gravy).
If you’ve got any gravy you didn’t use, it can be refrigerated for another use. It will thicken in the frig, but you can thin it out with a little milk.