Thursday, December 22, 2016

Grandma Beasley's Stewed Potatoes (about 3 servings)

Grandma Beasley's Stewed Potatoes
I met my beautiful friend Hilda when we both were working as Nurse Managers at a community hospital in Rhode Island. The role was quite stressful with many long hours but very educational. I gained many useful skills and knowledge that helped me in my career to this day. I was thankful to have a friend and colleague who was supportive, kind and caring as Hilda. Her staff was also very lucky to have her as their boss. After I worked there over a year I resigned and left the country to backpack in Asia until the start of my next job. Hilda stayed and worked until she retired from her management position. To this day I am amazed but not surprised by her hard work, dedication and commitment to her job. After retirement, she and her husband Bill relocated to Ohio to be near family. 

Recently Hilda shared with me her special childhood memory of stewed potatoes made over a wood stove. "Whenever I was sick as a child my grandma or mom would make me stewed potatoes because that was what I would eat. They were so good." She remembers it was creamy and the sliced potatoes were very tender. She believes many of the ingredients such as milk, butter and potatoes probably all came from their own farm. She had attempted to make this stew many times but according to her, "I have not mastered that after all these years. My grandma still made the best". When I heard her description of the stew I was intrigued. Although I have never eaten this type of stew I take it as a challenge to myself to find a way to replicate this for my friend. Here is a stew that is creamy with tender sliced potatoes. Hilda, I know this stew will never be as good as your grandma Beasley's but I really hope my interpretation of it is somewhat of a close match to hers!

Grandma Beasley's Stewed Potatoes (about 3 servings)

Ingredients:

1 small white or yellow onion (about 3 1/2 oz), peeled and grated
2 Idaho or Russet potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly (see photo below)
2 tsp oil
1 thin slice of pancetta, diced (about 2 oz)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt

Method:

Grate the onion and set aside. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes and set aside. The potatoes will turn slightly darker once oxided with oxygen but it should be ok since you are cooking it fairly quickly. In a medium sized pot add a little oil and saute the pancetta pieces until they are lightly golden. Scoop out the pancetta pieces and set them aside (may use for garnish later). Add onion to the pot with the pancetta oil and saute about 1-2 minutes or until it is soft and somewhat translucent. Add potato slices and butter. Saute about 5 minutes in medium low heat. Add milk, cream and season with salt. Turn the heat up to medium. Once the liquid starts to bubble a little, turn the heat to the lowest setting and cover the pot. Avoid boiling the liquid. Cook at very low heat for about 30 to 45 minutes or until the potato slices are very tender. After about 20 minutes into cooking take a large scoop of the potato slices with a little liquid and puree them either in a food processor or blender. Be sure to let this contents cool down a little before you puree or blend. Return the pureed potatoes back into the pot to continue cooking. I like to garnish the finished stew with some fried diced pancetta and a sprinkle of freshly ground white pepper.

thinly sliced potatoes
*I used the Idaho or Russet potatoes because they are starchy. Check out this interesting Reader's Digest link on Potatoes 101: A Guide to the Most Common Varieties. After cooking for a long time the stew will thicken.
*If you do not have pancetta you may use bacon. Besides, if I have to guess Grandma Beasley probably used bacon from the pigs on her farm to make this! I personally like pancetta and I can easily purchase a small piece at the deli section (at my local grocery). Typically the grocery store (in the US) sells bacon in a standard package that comes with about 20 slices. It's impossible to buy just a few slices.
*If you do not have a food processor or a blender you may use a potato masher or a ricer. 

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