One of my fondest food memories is of the tiny round potatoes known as papas criollas from Colombia. The Colombian papas criollas grow wild in the Andes highlands and have a thin, tender skin and a buttery yellow interior that yields an amazing flavor. They are a favorite for soups such as Ajiaco or served as appetizers or sides either roasted, fried, mashed, boiled, or skewered and grilled. Here in the United States you can buy them frozen in some stores or in jars from various online grocers (see Where to Buy below). I have searched for years but still have not found frozen, canned, or fresh papas criollas in any of our local Hispanic or international grocery stores.
If you’ve ever had a memory of food so strong that you still dream of it 15 years later, you’ll understand my excitement when I spotted tiny yellow potatoes in Trader Joe’s last week. Small potatoes have been in vogue for a few years, but the little yellow Dutch creamers in our area stores are bigger than papas criollas and I’ve never been quite happy with them. When I saw these petite gems my heart went pitter patter and I jumped with glee and clapped. In Trader Joe’s. Yes, people stared.
These tasty little potatoes are only 1-inch in diameter, a perfect bite size. Michael was thrilled that I found them and assumed I was going to make Ajiaco, but I shocked him when I announced that I planned to fry these. I don’t like to fry, it always makes a big splattery mess leaving me with a big cleanup, but the memory of crispy fried papas is burned in my brain and I wanted to share that experience with my family without buying plane tickets to Bogotá.
My next step is to test the papas in Ajiaco. If they are a true match, they will break up and dissolve into the soup, and then I will set up some space to grow my own papas criollas. What a dream come true.
Just for fun: If you want to experience papas criollas the way I first did years ago, listen to Clasicos de la Provincia by Carlos Vives while eating. For something instrumental, The Rumba Foundation by Jesse Cook offers some great Colombian-inspired sounds that will give you rumba fever.
FRIED PAPAS CRIOLLAS
Makes 1 pound, serves 2 to 4.
large heavy bottom pot with lid
cast iron pot or frying appliance
plate or platter lined with paper towels
1 pound (~450 g) papas criollas or similar tiny yellow potato (about 1-inch in diameter)
cooking oil (I use canola.)
1. STEAM OR PARBOIL: Pour water into bottom of large pot and insert the steamer basket. Add the potatoes, cover, and bring to a boil. Steam the potatoes for about 4 to 5 minutes, then drain and pat dry. If you don’t have a steamer basket, you can parboil the potatoes. Add enough water to cover the potatoes, bring to a boil, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and dry.
2. FRY: While cooking the potatoes, add oil to the cast iron pot or frying appliance. There should be enough oil for the potatoes to float, but it doesn’t need to be very deep. Add potatoes, about 10 to 15 at a time. They will probably bubble and splatter, so keep a screen handy. Some of the potato skins may burst open, and that’s ok, the skin will be particularly crispy. Fry for about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove and drain well on the plate lined with paper towels. Allow to cool for a minute or two. Salt generously and serve.