So you’re mashing potatoes and have a mound of skins. And maybe T.G.I. Franchise has made you think that those skins are only for being covered in 2500 calories-worth of neon cheese. But—surprise!—potato peels are nutritious, tasty and useful even without bacon bits. Turn them into crusts for savory pies, crunchy snacks, and even use them in place of breadcrumbs; their sturdy, earthy flavor and ability to crisp are so intriguing when they’re unexpected.
But first, we’re talking uncooked peels that look good enough to eat, so skip peels from potatoes that are shriveled, green from sunburn, or tentacled with sprouts. The best peel comes from large, starchy potatoes with thick skins, like russets, although really huge baking potatoes can be too leathery. Small, waxy, so-called new potatoes yield only flimsy tatters that cling to your fingers like damp tissue, so skip them. (Just leave their skins on whenever you’re cooking them for extra flavor and fiber.)
Potato peel should taste earthy, not earthen, so start with well-scrubbed potatoes. A sharp Y-shaped peeler removes wide, even strips of peel that are easy to handle. To store the peels for up to three days, submerge them in cool water, cover, and refrigerate. A pound of potatoes yields about 1¼ cups of packed peels, and here are four commendable ways to make the most of the lowliest part of a potato.
Crumbs: Bits of peel can replace the fresh bread crumbs used to bind meatballs, meatloaf, or croquettes. Chop or pulse the peels in a food processor, into pieces just small enough to look like rolled oats (excess processing will spin them into a gluey mess) and substitute them one-to-one.
Crackers: Remove the peel in pieces as long and wide as possible. If they curl, snip the edges to help them lie flat on the baking sheet. Brush with oil and sprinkle with one or more of the following: coarse salt, ground pepper, finely grated Parmesan or other hard cheese, a pinch of dried herbs, and/or garlic or onion powder. Bake at 450°F until crisp and lightly puffed, about 6 minutes. Serve hot or let cool, uncovered. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days.
Crisps: Remove the peel in long, wide strips and pat them very dry. Leave the strips whole or thinly slice them to make frizzled straws. Fill a deep, heavy skillet or pot to a depth of 1 inch with oil and heat it to 350°F. (If you don’t have a deep-fat thermometer, test the temperature by sprinkling a pinch of flour into the oil; it should immediately sizzle and begin to brown without hissing or spitting.) Adding no more pieces than can float freely, fry them until they are lightly blistered and the flesh sides are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well and season while hot with salt, Old Bay, BBQ rub, or anything else you like.
Crusts: Potato peel crust is softer and darker than pastry crust, but it delivers the hearty, satisfying flavor that one expects from well-seasoned potatoes. This versatile mixture can be formed into a pie shell or baked flat for a kind of flatbread. (When cool, it even folds like a slice of pizza.) Chop 2 cups of firmly packed peel (from about 1½ pounds of potatoes) until the pieces resemble coarse sawdust. Toss with 1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt and drain in a sieve for 15 minutes. Squeeze out every drop of moisture. Transfer to a bowl and stir in ¾ cup very finely chopped onion, 2 large beaten eggs, and ¼ cup all-purpose flour (or rice flour for a gluten-free version). If you like, add up to 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, or parsley. Press the mixture into one of the baking pans described below. Bake at 425°F until set, about 15 minutes. Brush lightly with olive oil and continue baking until the crust is very firm and lightly crisped along the edge, 6 to 8 minutes more. If the crust still isn’t as crisp as you like, stick it under a preheated broiler, but watch it carefully.
- For a pie shell, press the mixture into a greased 9-inch pie tin. For mini shells, press the mixture into 12 standard or 6 jumbo muffin cups (but the baking time will be shorter). This crust is great with savory egg custard fillings, such as quiche.
- For “pizza” crust, press the mixture onto an oiled 12-inch pizza pan.
- For flatbread, press the mixture to a ¼-inch thickness on an oiled baking sheet. While warm, cut it into serving pieces and serve warm or at room temperature, either unadorned or topped. When cool, the pieces can be filled and then rolled or folded, like soft lavash or a tortilla.
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