Skillet potatoes made by Judith Jones for Julia. Yes…that Julia. A simple combination of potatoes, butter, salt, and garlic cooked in a skillet until golden brown. Simple but utter perfection.
Once, when I was in Cambridge working all day nonstop with Julia Child, as we often did, it was almost 11 p.m. when she finally swept away the manuscript and announced we’d make dinner. She then turned to me and said: “Judith, you make a nice little potato dish while I fix the meat.” Slightly unnerved, I managed to rise to the occasion and put together what I would call a fast stovetop version of the classic potatoes Anna. As I mashed some garlic and salt together and smeared this between the layers of sliced potatoes, Julia was looking on a bit skeptically, and although I used lots of butter, of which she always approved, it wasn’t clarified butter. But when we sat down and she took her first bite, she pronounced the potatoes delicious, and her husband, Paul, toasted me. I was in cook’s heaven. I probably made my potato dish that night in a standard round 5- or 6- inch skillet for the three of us, but in recent years I’ve made it regularly for myself in a 4 1/2-inch-square cast-iron frying pan, which once belonged to my father. After he retired, he liked cooking for himself, and I remember his acquiring this little pan with pride so that he could make himself one perfect fried egg. It’s unlikely that you’ll have such a pan, particularly one imbued with fond memories, but any very small skillet will do.–Judith Jones
Skillet Potatoes for Two
- 2 medium new potatoes or 1 large russet potato*
- 1 small garlic clove
- Salt to taste
- 4 teaspoons butter
- Freshly ground pepper
- Peel the potato(es) and slice them very thin.
- Peel and mince the garlic. Using the flat of your chef ’s knife, smash the garlic along with a little salt on your cutting board until a paste forms. Work about 2 teaspoons of the butter into the paste.
- Heat 2 teaspoons of the butter in a small, preferably well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Place half of the potato slices in the skillet, overlapping them slightly and covering the bottom of the skillet. Lightly season the spuds with salt and pepper, then smear the garlic paste on top. Add the remaining potatoes in the same fashion.
- Cook the potatoes gently over medium-low heat, placing a small cover askew on top of the pan. After about 8 minutes, turn the potatoes, which should be brown on the bottom, by removing the cover and setting a small, sturdy plate on top of the pan and flipping the potatoes over onto it. They won’t hold together in perfect shape, but don’t worry. Heat the remaining butter in the pan, then just slide the potatoes back in and arrange them as neatly as you can. Let them cook, semi- covered, for about 5 minutes, and then cook uncovered for a couple more minutes, at which point they should be tender thoughout and nicely browned on both top and bottom. The timing will vary slightly depending on the size of the skillet, the heat of the flame, and just how thick you sliced the potatoes.
- Turn the potatoes onto a warm dinner plate and let them mingle with whatever meat and its juices you are having for dinner.
*How do I thinly slice potatoes?For a recipe that only needs a few potatoes, you might not want to pull out your mandolin but it IS the best way to get uniformly thin slices. A food processor will work too, but only if the spuds are small enough to fit in the feed tube. If you have a decently sharp knife and a steady hand, you can also do it the old-fashioned way, of course. Uniformly sliced potatoes mean that everything will cook at the same rate, giving you crisp outsides and fluffy insides.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This has become my favorite side dish. So simple yet, so perfect. What, No cheese? No bacon? EVERYTHING you need is here. If it was good enough for Julia, it must be good enough for us.
This is a delightfully simple, quick, and tasty potato dish. Since the recipe didn’t state one way or the other, I used salted butter, along with a little more salt to season the potatoes. I also used one large potato (as I could only find small, large, or gargantuan), and this worked out quite well. I cooked these a little longer than suggested, as they didn’t brown to the extent that I wanted them to be, but I didn’t alter the recipe otherwise. The recipe is perfect as it is. No wonder Julia was pleased.
Originally published July 19, 2010