You may ask yourself why an Irish recipe for potatoes is being featured today when St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in March. The answer is because potatoes taste good any time of the year. It also has everything to do with a longtime reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, but thought I might enjoy the recipe. And she’s right.
I happen to have my own copy clipped and saved back in 1970 when the article appeared Jan. 11 in the State Journal’s Sunday “What’s Cooking” column. It was also of interest because it was written by columnist Joan Judd, who attended East High with my sister, Elaine, back in the early 1950s.
The story began back in 1926 when Bing Crapser and Shorty Levenich opened Shorty’s Dugout at 126 ½ State St. I’ve always loved State Street and am fascinated by a time in history when a T-bone steak dinner “with all the trimmings” cost only 45 cents. And, along with all the other interesting bits of information, it included Bing’s recipe for potatoes O’Brien a la Bing.
And there was so much more. Bing and Shorty met during World War I and when the war ended, both arrived in Madison to operate the Belmont Cafe. Although there were many highlights to celebrate along the way, they also endured drawbacks that included other types of employment. Bing, however, never stopped cooking and one of his favorite recipes was made with potatoes.
Judd also included a picture of Bing with the recipe he had handwritten for her readers as being “truly delightful, delicious, succulent, most highly palatable — and good too!”
Potatoes O’Brien a la Bing
12 medium-sized potatoes
1 large green pepper
1 large, or 2 small jars pimientos, reserving oil
1 Spanish onion, about 3-inches in diameter
Skin divers’ mask with snorkel
Salt and pepper to taste
Rosen paprika (domestic will do)
10-inch cast iron skillet or Teflon fry pan, sloping sides preferred
Beef suet, the size of a walnut
Solid vegetable shortening or other cooking oil
Boil potatoes until just underdone with jackets on. Drain, allow to cool slightly, and peel while still warm. Slice coarsely into a mixing bowl and allow to cool thoroughly. Remove seeds from green pepper, dice finely, and par-boil for two minutes. Drain.
Drain pimientos, reserving oil, and finely dice. Peel and finely dice onion adding that this can best be accomplished under water in your bathtub using the mask and snorkel. You won’t cry half as much this way.
Chop cooled potatoes in mixing bowl being careful not to “mush them” too much. (I use a No. 2 ½ size can with a sharp edge and vented top). Add green peppers, pimentos, onions, and salt and pepper to taste. Dredge with paprika. Mix gently, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for a couple of hours to “age.”
Preheat skillet. Chop suet and fry out in skillet; remove cracklings. Add enough cooking oil to bring oil level to about ¼-inch in bottom of skillet. When fat starts to smoke, add potatoes. Over a fast fire for the first few minutes, stir the potatoes often to distribute the cooking fat and prevent sticking. Add pimiento oil and stir in well. When lightly browned, reduce heat and continue to stir with spatula to prevent excessive browning. By now your spuds should be about half done.
From now on, do not stir. Start to shape potatoes into a circular, flat-topped mound working the potatoes about 1-inch away from the edge of the skillet toward the center, sloping the sides of the mound. Roll three or four sheets of paper toweling into a tube and place in skillet between edge of pan and spuds. Press down with tongs or spatula and let paper absorb fat. Remove with tongs and dispose. Repeat, if necessary, until all the fat has been absorbed.
Press a platter or plate, a little larger than the potato mound, but smaller than the skillet, firmly over potatoes. Press down on the plate with one hand and with the other hand grasping the skillet, execute a carefully synchronized up-side-down flip removing potatoes to the plate. Remove skillet and feast your tired old eyes on one of the most delightfully golden brown platters of O’Briens you have ever seen in your life.
Cut as you would a pie and serve with a wedge-spaced server.
If a recipe for potatoes O’Brien stirs even more thoughts of March 17 and corned beef, this casserole, recently discovered in Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, “9x13: The Pan That Can,” promises to be delicious anytime of the year.
Reuben sandwich casserole
1 32-ounce jar sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 teaspoons dried parsley flakes, crushed
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
4 cups shredded Swiss cheese (1 pound)
1 1/3 cups bottled Thousand Island salad dressing
12 ounces thinly sliced cooked corned beef, coarsely chopped
6 slices rye bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl combine drained sauerkraut, onion, dried parsley, and caraway seeds. Spread sauerkraut mixture evenly into an ungreased 9x13-inch baking pan or baking dish. Top with half of the cheese, half of the salad dressing, and all of the corned beef. Top with the remaining salad dressing and the remaining cheese. In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with melted butter to coat. Sprinkle bread cubes over casserole.
Bake, uncovered, about 35 minutes or until heated through and bread cubes are browned.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
Responses to a request months ago for mushroom soup recipes continue to arrive, this time with a recipe from my friend, Barbara McCalley, and longtime friend of Mike Repas. McCalley is a retired teacher, cooking instructor and cookbook author whose parents were in the restaurant business for many years in Pennsylvania, where she still resides.
Barbara Mac’s creamy Marsala mushroom soup
½ cup butter
1 large garlic clove, sliced
¾ cup diced onion
24 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 ½ cups Marsala wine, dry being preferable
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add garlic and saute until it “tans.” The butter should now be infused with the garlic flavor. Remove garlic if you like, or leave it in. Add onions and saute until they become soft and translucent. Increase heat a bit, then add mushrooms and saute until mushrooms take on a deep golden color. Add salt and pepper to taste, then lower heat. Add flour and thyme, stir, and simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Add Marsala, stir, and simmer until liquid is reduced by about half. Add chicken broth and, while stirring, increase heat back to medium high. When mixture reaches a slow boil, reduce heat and allow mixture to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add cream, bring back to a simmer, taste for additional salt and/or pepper, and serve.
Note: Never use what’s labeled as “cooking wine” as the intense flavor isn’t what it should be and often is too salty. If you are worried about the alcohol content of real wine, don’t be. The limited amount of alcohol will cook away, but the flavor remains.
Also, you can substitute a good quality chicken base like “Better Than Bouillon” for broth by following instructions to attain desired concentration. Evaporated milk can be substituted for heavy cream. And, if you use fresh thyme, chop fine and double the amount.