If I had to name our family’s absolute favorite recipe, I think this would be the one. You have to understand the history of this recipe. My mother’s mother Rose, my grandma, was a wonderful, Jewish, European cook. From what my mother told me, she was a self-taught cook. She definitely cooked typical Jewish, European recipes, but in my opinion, no one made them better. My mother often mused about how she didn’t appreciate her mother’s wonderful cooking when she was growing up, and how she didn’t really start to appreciate her mother’s cooking talent until she got married herself. My grandmother didn’t use complicated ingredients in her food; her cooking was simple but delicious. One of her greatest pleasures was cooking for her husband, my grandpa, her children, her children’s spouses, and her grandchildren. Every Friday night my cousins, Paul, Bobby, and Janie were dropped off at my grandparents’ house for a delicious Friday night (Shabbat) dinner. Only a few times did I get to eat with them. I loved those times. Anyway, from what I remember, the dinner consisted of pot roast, chicken fricassee with little meatballs, and brenta. (I’m not sure what the rest of the meal was.) As far as I’ve been told, brenta was an original creation of my grandmother’s. Brenta means “burned” in Yiddish. My grandmother’s brenta was the most delicious food I ate as a child. Luckily, my mother made brenta every other Friday night for us as a side dish (the main course was brisket). I became my mother’s personal brenta assistant. I learned the technical art of turning the brenta properly, and I took over making the brenta from beginning to end. The best part of making the brenta was picking out delectable morsels when it was done and popping them in my mouth. Oh, it was so good! The last and most important part of the job for me was carrying the bowl of brenta over to the kitchen table. Why? Of course, so I could be the one to put all the best pieces on my plate. My poor brother, Kenny got shafted by his greedy sister again. If you ask him, he will tell you that he still hasn’t forgiven me, and he is not joking! Well, when I had my children, I started making Friday night dinners and having my parents over, and both my mother and father were so happy when I would bring a magnificent bowl of brenta to the table. Luckily, my children and my husband adored my brenta, too. The consensus was that my brenta was definitely as good as my mother’s and my grandmother’s brenta. Right now, I am working on teaching my daughter Randi the art of making brenta, because we need to keep the family tradition going.
- 5 pounds Russet or Idaho potatoes
- corn oil -about half of a one quart bottle
- Kosher salt
Wash and peel potatoes. Cut into medium sided chunks and place in a pot or bowl of cold water. You can do this a few hours in advance and keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them. Drain the potatoes in a colander. Then pour the potatoes into a very large non-stick skillet (I use a 12 inch pan for this). Pour about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of corn oil over the potatoes. Then pour about 1 cup of cold water over all.
Put a cover over the skillet. I don’t have a cover large enough, so I put my largest cover directly over the potatoes instead of over the pan. Put the flame on high. After about 20 minutes, when the potatoes are a little soft, remove the top. Let the potatoes brown, without turning them. Then turn them, and let them brown again. I squish a spatula down on the potatoes a few times to mush up some of them to make some of the pieces smaller. You just keep letting them cook 10 minutes or so, and then you turn them. If you think the potatoes are not soft enough, you can always add a little more water to them, and recover them for a few minutes. If the potatoes don’t seem to have enough oil to brown in, add a little more oil. When the potatoes are burned in parts, and really browned well, you can put them in a large bowl that you have lined with layers of paper towels. Wrap the towels around them and flip over. Wait about 3 or 4 minutes and unroll them from the paper towels, as you dump them into the bowl. Sprinkle them sufficiently with the kosher salt to taste and bring your masterpiece to the table. Five pounds of brenta will disappear right in front of your eyes!
Note: The actual cooking time is about 1 hour and 15 minutes. In recent years, I have used red potaotes and not peeled them, but I still think they come out best when you use Idaho’s or Russets, and you peel them.