Food & Drink

Hasselback. Because who doesn't like crispy-edged potatoes?

Hasselback Potatoes. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Laura Chase de Formigny
Hasselback Potatoes. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Laura Chase de Formigny

The key to a Hasselbacked potato is making extremely slim slices through most, but not all, of the potato. When done properly, they are so thin the potato will look like a Slinky. While cooking, the slices fan open, allowing the flavored butter to permeate the center of the potato. As the butter melts, it pools on the bottom of the pan, roasting the potato from the bottom up. It’s more than just a delicious recipe - it’s a beautiful presentation.

The thinner the potato is sliced, the snappier the crispy edges. To slice only part of the way through the potato is challenging but not impossible. I employ the Two-Chopstick-Method: Rest the potato lengthwise between two chopsticks and slice downward. The chopsticks will keep the knife from slicing all the way through, so that the potato remains intact. Two identical wooden spoons will also work, with the potato resting on the parallel handles. And I’ve recently learned there is a Hasselback tool (more than 12 versions available online!) - a wooden block with a scooped out center into which the potato nestles. Some versions of the tool have a wire topper that fits over the potato and guides the knife. A friend told me that her new mother-in-law gave her a Hasselback tool when she married. “My son likes Hasselback potatoes” was her only comment. Message received!

Once sliced, the Hasselback technique calls for butter to be pushed between the slices. This is a marvelous idea but nearly impossible to achieve. Instead, coat the top of the potato thickly with the herbed butter, pushing it between the slices to the best of your ability. It will get there in the oven, so don’t worry. Be very generous with the finely chopped herbs that flavor the butter. It should smell spectacular while cooking. For extra crispy bits, I mixed panko crumbs into the butter. When the butter melts, those crumbs attach to the edges of the potato slices, and the crunch factor is amplified.

For the Thanksgiving table, and to effectively serve many people, rather than using full-size potatoes, this recipe can be made with small fingerling-shaped spuds. I combined sweet potatoes and the whole rainbow of potato hues - purple, red and gold - often packaged together in the produce department at many grocery stores. These smaller potatoes take up less room on the plate, which is an important consideration at Thanksgiving when so many side dishes are competing for our attention.

I packed my largest cast-iron pan with these small potatoes, all Hasselbacked. After time in the oven, they were deliciously crispy on the top. The heat from the pan bronzed the bottom of the potatoes and kept the dish hot for a long time after removing it from the oven. The smaller potatoes took about an hour, while full-size potatoes baked for 90 minutes or more. Time is less predictable with varying sizes, so use a fork to poke the center of the largest potato, looking for a soft and yielding texture as an indication of doneness.

I’ve been playing with root vegetables and the Hasselback technique. Try it with small white turnips, parsnips and carrots. It’s amenable to celeriac and rutabaga, too. But when it’s time for the big feast, Hasselback potatoes are a winning showstopper you’ll be delighted to carry to any feast.

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