Thursday, January 21, 2016

Brooke Dojny: Maine Potatoes — The Ultimate Comfort Food

The humble potato is a staple of the Maine economy and the star of a satisfying one-dish dinner.

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Children gathering potatoes on a large farm, vicinity of Caribou, Aroostook County, Maine, circa 1940. Photo by Jack Delano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In Maine’s Aroostook County, often affectionately called simply “the county,” mineral-rich soil and a cool climate combine to create ideal potato-growing conditions. “The county” is huge, occupying more land than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. In the mid-nineteenth century, when rail lines extended north into Aroostook, Maine became the nation’s biggest potato grower, though much of the crop went into laundry starch, rather than to the table.

Though Maine now ranks behind several other states in total production, it continues to count potatoes as its number one agricultural crop, with most still grown in Aroostook. These days, the production is mostly in “round whites,” a medium-sized, moderately starchy, all-purpose potato, the kind often sold in five-pound bags in the supermarket.

Fort Fairfield, Maine, holds a week-long Potato Blossom Festival each summer to celebrate the Maine spud. The festival is capped by the crowning of Miss Potato Queen and the awarding of ribbons in a potato recipe contest. This savory skillet supper dish is my adaptation of a recent prize-winner. It’s perfect for supper on a cold winter evening.

Aroostook County Potato and Sausage Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces kielbasa or similar garlicky smoked sausage, cut in ¼-inch slices
1 large onion, sliced
2 pounds all-purpose potatoes, peeled and sliced (5 to 6 cups)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken broth, preferably reduced-sodium
1 cup apple juice or apple cider
½ cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf, broken in half

  1. In a very large (11- or 12-inch), preferably nonstick, skillet with sides at least 2 inches high, heat the oil. Add the sausage and onion and sauté over medium heat, stirring, until the onion softens and the sausage begins to brown, about 6 minutes. 
  2. Add the sliced potatoes to the skillet, sprinkle with the flour, thyme, and pepper, and toss gently but thoroughly to combine well. Pour the broth, apple juice, and wine over the potato mixture and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender, 35 to 40 minutes. 
  3. Remove the bay leaf before serving directly from the skillet.

Brooke Dojny is the author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including The New England Clam Shack Cookbook, Dishing Up® Maine, Lobster!, and Chowderland. She won the James Beard Award in 1997 for The AMA Family Cookbook, co-authored with Melanie Barnard. Brooke started her culinary career in the 1980s when she worked as a catering directress for Martha Stewart. From 1990 to 2004, Brooke co-authored (with Melanie Barnard) Bon Appetit’s monthly “Every-Night Cooking” column and has written for most of the other major culinary magazines. She lives on the coast of Maine, where she can be found hanging out at clam shacks and farmers’ markets.

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