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Potatoes Cooked in the Coals



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Potatoes Cooked in the Coals

Chez Panisse Cooking

by Paul Bertolli with Alice Waters, 1988, Random House


For 4

“This is one of my favorite ways to cook new potatoes. Enclose them in heavy aluminum foil with a thick slice of bacon, garlic cloves, a little thyme and a
bay leaf, some butter or olive oil, and set them on hot embers in a corner of
the fireplace [or grill!]. If the embers are glaringly hot, cover them with a
layer of ash about 1/4 inch thick. This keeps the potatoes from blackening
on the bottom. (This package is also a fine way of trapping the aroma of the
black truffle, which potatoes particularly enjoy.) A little water added to the
package prevents the bottom from burning and creates steam, which helps
the potatoes cook.
There is a certain comforting pleasure in cooking one’s food on the open
hearth. Sealed as they are against any smoke penetration, the potatoes are
blind to the source of heat and cook simply, as they would if placed on the
floor of the oven.
Yet the presentation of the package, sealed like a Christmas gift and dusted
with ash, never fails to elicit surprise and delight when it is opened at the
table and its aromas escape in a glorious ascension of steam.”

1 pound small new potatoes
(about 1 inch in diameter), skins
left on, or larger potatoes,
cut 1 inch thick
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted
butter, melted
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup water
4 to 5 leafy sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2-ounce slice of lean slab
bacon, rind left on

Toss the potatoes and garlic in a bowl in the butter, and salt and pepper
them generously. Cut two pieces of heavy aluminum foil about 20 inches
long and 12 inches wide. Set one on top of the other, forming a double
thickness, and pour the potatoes and garlic in the middle of the foil. Press
the edges of the foil up around the potatoes and pour the water over
them. Place the thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and bacon on top and seal the
package tightly.
Set the foil package on a bed of coals in the fireplace [or grill]. If the coals
are searing hot, cover them as described above. The potatoes should take
about 40 to 50 minutes to cook. During this time, check them. If you hear
a violent sputtering, the fire is too hot. Cover the bed with more ash to
insulate the package from the direct heat. Since you will not be able to test
the potatoes, you will have to rely upon your ears and nose to tell you that
they are done. Listen for a gentle sizzling sound, and if it is accompanied
by the aroma of baked potatoes mingled with bacon and thyme, the package
is ready to serve. Alternatively, the potatoes may be cooked directly on the
floor of a preheated 350-degree F oven, in which case they will be ready in
45 minutes.
Set the package on a platter and open it at the table. Let the potatoes cool slightly, turn them over gently with a spoon to coat them with the juices
in the bottom of the package, and serve them with a small piece of bacon
and some of the garlic slices.

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