These Portuguese punched potatoes (called batatas a murro in Portuguese), are essentially crisp-skinned, creamy smashed potatoes smothered in caramelized onions and melted cheese. Sharing optional.
This traditional Portuguese smashed potato dish, batatas a murro, is simply roasted potatoes that are crisp-skinned and soul-achingly tender smothered with caramelized onions and melted cheese. Although actually, there’s nothing simple about it. At least not the taste. Typically served as a side, but we won’t judge if you indulge in an entire plateful, preferably accompanied by a glass of wine.–Nuno Mendes
Punched Potatoes | Batatas a Murro
- 14 ounces potatoes such as Yukon gold or similar, skin on
- 2 garlic cloves smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt ground white pepper, and cracked black pepper
- 1 onion thinly sliced (about 11 oz)
- Sherry vinegar
- 2 ounces queijo da Serra (a marvelously rich melty cheese) Teleggio, Gruyère, or another full-flavored melting cheese, broken into small pieces, or more to taste
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil, add the potatoes, and cook until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly.
- Preheat the oven to 430°F (220°C).
- Let the potatoes cool for about 10 minutes and then lightly smash them with your fist or the bottom of a heavy skillet.
- Place them in an ovenproof dish with the garlic and bay leaf, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, and gently turn to ensure they’re thoroughly coated. Season with salt and white pepper and bake until golden brown and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a skillet over low heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil and then add the onions and season with salt and white pepper. Cook gently until very soft and translucent, about 20 minutes.* Try squeezing a piece of onion; it should be very soft and taste sweet.
- Increase the heat and let the onions caramelize and turn golden brown, stirring to stop them from sticking, about 5 minutes more. Remove the cartouche, if using, and set aside. Add a splash of sherry vinegar for a little bit of acidity that cuts through the cheese.
- Take the potatoes out of the oven and scatter the onions and spoon or scatter the cheese on top. Return the dish to the oven and cook until golden brown and bubbling, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and serve right away, sprinkled with a little cracked black pepper.
What is queijo da Serra cheese?“This is the reigning monarch of Portuguese cheese and has been for more than eight hundred years. Produced from the raw milk of Bordaleira sheep that graze on Beira Alta’s soaring Serra da Estrela mountain range, hence the name, queijo da Serra is still a handmade, artisanal cheese. Because of the work involved, each maker can turn out at most three wheels a day, but the EU is pressuring makers to automate the process. The cheese is produced in colder months, primarily from November to March, and it undergoes a four- to six-week maturation process. Initially, the cheese is sumptuously, creamily soft, and the linen-wrapped wheels are traditionally served with their tops shorn off and spoons are passed around for scooping. As it ages, the cheese firms up but never hardens.”
How to pick the perfect queijo da Serra?To pick a perfect wedge or wheel, definitely poke. The rind should yield under even the slightest pressure. And always serve the cheese at room temperature, taking it out of the fridge up to three hours in advance if necessary. If you’re bereft of queijo da Serra in your area, you can order it online or you can substitute Spain’s queso de la Serena or an Italian Taleggio, an oozy, deliciously stinky cow's milk cheese.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
Crisp potatoes, sweet onions, and melted cheese…what’s not to love? This dish hit all the right notes and could easily become part of my go-to comfort food repertoire. And the good part is that it doesn’t feel too anything…neither too starchy, too oniony, or too oozing with cheese, but with just the right amounts combined to create a satisfying, soothing, warming side.
And the splash of vinegar in the onions was just right to cut through the rich cheese. I might not want to eat this on a hot summer night, but give me a cold, snowy winter day and this could easily be what I would want on my plate.
I used grated Gruyère, which worked extremely well with the other ingredients. I wouldn’t have wanted any more cheese than what was called for in the recipe.
The onions required about 20 minutes to become soft and translucent and another 20 to caramelize. I did not use a cartouche for this step, preferring to stir and watch them instead, and I did try the squeeze and taste test to confirm texture and flavor.
Makes 4 servings using enormous self-control not to eat it all myself.
It’s not just the Portuguese who favor the potato, onion, nd cheese combo, though I’m intrigued they’re interested in the stinky cheese spectrum. I wasn’t able to locate the queijo da Serra, or any Portuguese cheeses, unfortunately, and I wanted to go with the stinky idea, so I passed on the idea of Gruyere and went with the idea of a washed rind. I found a lovely seasonal from Belgium, Spring Chimay. It was nice and pungent and there was an aroma surrounding me on the train home and in the fridge where I kept the cheese overnight.
To cut to the chase, and then I’ll backtrack with some details, I could be the voice of this recipe: “I sometimes eat a whole bowl of this…,” and my fellow taster felt the same. However, the cheese virtually disappeared. When I placed it on the potatoes, it looked like a lot. When I took the potatoes out of the oven, with the cheese melted, it did not look like enough. We agreed that it could definitely use MORE cheese! And that double the cheese might not be too much! These could be eaten by the bowlful or divided but certainly not more than four servings.
With a salad, it could be a vegetarian lunch entrée. Even served alone, a green garnish would be visually appealing. We took out a variety of microgreens, which added a little sweetness, a little spiciness, and a little crunch.
A definite yes to the cracked black pepper atop, while still hot: cracked, and not too fine.
The melty cheese will never be better than right as it is pulled from the oven. Serve right away. We barely got the potatoes moved to plates before we were splitting the (four?!) servings two ways!
Originally published January 17, 2019