There are certain assumptions that are made about Southern cooking that do not apply to me, mostly the ones that hinge on the concept that most Southern food is homemade. My family was quite poor for a very long time — I’m two or three generations removed from living in a house with dirt floors, depending which branch of the family tree you follow — and that influenced how my grandparents cooked and ate.
Making everything from scratch feels good and virtuous when you have money and time, but it’s a real pain in the arse if you are lacking in either department. Having grown up poor, and in an area with increasing food scarcity, my grandparents embraced convenience foods — the canned, the boxed, and the frozen — the moment they appeared on the Piggly Wiggly shelves, and they never looked back.
And though I almost always prefer a fresh (or frozen) vegetable to a canned one, I have a soft spot for canned potatoes, which always appeared along with my grandmother’s pot roast (which was smothered in cream of mushroom soup and seasoned heavily with garlic salt).
These fuzzy potato feels came flooding back to me yesterday, when I read this charming piece of writing by Daniel M. Lavery on the subject. In it, Lavery praises canned potatoes for their undisputed convenience factor, especially in the meal planning department. Rather than par-boiling potatoes on Sunday with the plan to crisp or mash them during the week, you can do exactly nothing, because canned potatoes are always ready to go:
But canned potatoes are par-boiled potatoes, in many ways more convenient and flexible than frozen potatoes (which have already been processed into fries or hash browns or some other pre-determined shape). They are best when you crisp them up yourself (whether roasted, chopped into hash, gratinéed, pan- or deep-fried, etc), but perfectly serviceable mashed (depending on your definition of serviceable, I’m not saying serve it for Thanksgiving but it can be doctored into a very worthwhile solo supper). The worst part about roasting potatoes is always the fussy par-boiling, without which they’re inevitably leathery and rock-hard, so you can skip straight to the fun browning part.
The fun browning part is what I’m most interested in. I wouldn’t use canned spuds for a mash — at least not without a lot of THC on board — but when coated with a delicious fat, such as bacon grease, and seasoned with salt and MSG, pre-sliced canned potatoes can be rendered into a delicious, salty and crispy snack in very short order, especially if you have an air fryer.
By combining the convenience of canned potatoes with the whipping winds of a powerful little convection oven, you can have crispy, browned potatoes ready for eating in 15 minutes if you’re using the the sliced spuds, or 25 if you grab a can of the whole. Both are good, but I prefer the pre-sliced, because you get more browned surface area per potato, and that is the entire point. Do not worry, your friends and family will not be able to tell the potatoes you’re feeding them came from an 80-cent can, unless you tell them.
Crispy Air-Fried Canned Potatoes
- 1 can of sliced potatoes
- 1 tablespoon bacon grease
- Salt and MSG, or any seasoning blend you desire, to taste
Drain the potatoes, rinse them, and pat them dry with paper towels. Melt the bacon grease if needed and toss with the potatoes in a mixing bowl. Cook them in an air fryer heated to 200°C for 15 minutes, until they are browned and crispy. Transfer to paper towels and season with your choice of seasoning. Serve with sour cream for dipping, if you are so inclined.