Boiled Potatoes and Tuna

When kitchen inspiration is hard to come by, potatoes save the day.  (Ruth Gebreyesus)

In light of the shelter-in-place order, many of us have resorted to cooking at home, revisiting old recipes and getting creative with our pantries. Instead of our usual Flavors Worth Finding column with recommendations from restaurants, KQED staffers are sharing the meals they’ve been making at home to find some comfort and grounding during uncertain times.

I remembered that sometime in April, back when I approached cooking every meal with a creative enthusiasm that’s nowhere to be found these days, I was making a lot of potato-centric meals. Very often, I’d top them off with tuna packed in oil and a couple touches of acid by way of lemon juice, pickles and hot sauce along with a drop or two of aioli or mayo. Though the ingredients are quite humble, the bites were always an elegant surprise.

Oil-packed tuna is a perfect dressing for potatoes.
Oil-packed tuna is a perfect dressing for potatoes. (Ruth Gebreyesus)

Maybe it’s the cooling fall weather but April memories of boiling potatoes in salty water with a bay leaf floating around occurred to me the other day and lunch was solved. Like I did in spring, I choose the sort of potatoes you don’t have to peel, especially since boiling peeled potatoes makes a starchy mess that I’m not keen on cleaning. Fingerlings, butterballs and the likes work great and larger potatoes can be cut up post-boil. The boiling water has to be truly salty, think ocean salty, and I like to toss in a bay Laurel I collect on my neighborhood walks. It perfumes the water and the potatoes pick up its sweet and pungent fragrance. Rosemary works great too as do other hardy, oily herbs. 

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While the potatoes are boiling, I slice up some spring onions or shallots in a skillet with garlic and plenty of olive oil. Sometimes, I add a bit of ghee for luxury. I let the alliums warm up and bloom until they’re soft. What follows is a layering of the components that’ll comprise the final presentation. First, I cut the potatoes quite imprecisely around bite size so they can receive and absorb the dressing that’s to come. I distribute the onions and garlic along with much of the oil they were cooked in on top of the steaming warm potatoes. Third is the tuna packed in oil. I leave as much of the oil as I can behind. Then come a few dollops of aioli, pickled onions,  some hot sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice. If I have it on hand, I'll chop up some tender fresh herbs like cilantro. Recently, I added some pipicha, a Oaxacan herb that tastes like a cilantro crossed with carrot, which doesn’t make much sense but it’s delicious. When I’m up for the task, I like to add blanched or pan-roasted broccoli to my plate for diversity of color and texture. Sometimes, I substitute the tuna with sardines or the mayo for yogurt. Other times, I top the whole thing off with a soft boiled egg because it feels like an extravagant touch of protein. But the combo of oil packed fish with potatoes is the reliable foundation for this uncomplicated treat. 

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