Otik’s Spiced Potatoes Original Recipe Sucks
Last year I wrote about my take on Otik’s Spiced Potatoes original recipe. That was before I realized that Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Michael Witwer would be publishing Heroes’ Feast: The Official D&D Cookbook. Even when I learned of its publication, Otik didn’t enter my mind. And because I sometimes have little to no self-control, I bought the book and while I was at it, I bought Recipes from the World of Tolkien by Robert Tuesley Anderson despite already owning An Unexpected Cookbook by Chris-Rachael Oseland. Yeah. No self-control sometimes.
Anyway, once I was home with my copy of Heroes Feast I started browsing it and discovered that there is a recipe for Otik’s Skillet-Fried Spiced Potatoes. Before I got too excited I decided to chase down the official original recipe rather than people’s takes that I found on the internet.
Otik’s Spiced Potatoes original recipe
The original recipe is in a Krynn source book called Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home. That’s a mouthful, but hey, I didn’t make up the title. As near as I can tell, Weis and Hickman grew tired of people asking for the recipe and finally caved and published it in this 1987 book (called “Otik’s Spiced Fried Potatoes” here). Alas, it is a dull and uninspired recipe. You can tell the recipe isn’t from an enthusiastic chef. That’s okay. The two authors are writers, not culinary superstars. Nonetheless, the recipe doesn’t yield a dish that is worth writing home about. Let alone mentioning in several novels. Here is the ingredient list for the original:
- 1 pound potatoes (any kind)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 to 2 dashes cayenne
Yawn. These ingredients will yield an underwhelming dish. It’s not their (the ingredients) fault. You just can’t expect many nuances of flavor from these players.
First, to call for any kind of potato seems lazy. I know they never intended it but what if a home cook decided they wanted to use up the last of their sweet potatoes? Would they work? Would Otik, a practical yet proud man, be okay with whatever is on hand that night? From the tone of the novels I gathered that the potatoes were a cornerstone of the menu at the Inn of the Last Home (geez, that name!) and it’s unlikely they’d change regularly. World-, and war-, weary travelers are looking for comfort and, if they’ve had them, the familiarity of Otik’s potatoes. So, no. Not just any kind will do.
Next, I don’t care what anyone tells you. A potato dish without some form of salt will be sorely lacking. Perhaps Weis and/or Hickman use salted butter even though they don’t specify that. This is bad protocol. Especially when they can’t settle on a single kind of potato; maybe a pound of russets needs more salt than a pound of red potatoes. 3 tablespoons of my salted butter may have more salt than yours. Or less. Either way, you can’t expect to control the saltiness with salted butter alone and potatoes with no salt are pretty much an abomination.
The onion. White? Yellow? Green? I can guess they don’t intend for us to use a red onion. But I can’t be certain. And what do the authors mean by “finely” chopped. Do they mean a more uniform dice? Probably. It’s unlikely that the mean for us to mince the onion. I know I’m being pedantic at this point, but there is a difference between a chop, a dice, and a mince and, for me, that matters.
Finally, the cayenne. Dashes are traditionally a measure of a liquid ingredient (about 10 drops from a medicine dropper) and Weis and Hickman most assuredly mean ground cayenne here. Do they mean to suggest a pinch or two? Probably. It doesn’t matter though. A pinch or two of cayenne against a pound of potatoes won’t make much difference.
Notice the technique? Melt butter, add cayenne, fry potatoes (for how long?), and then add onion and fry for another minute. Oh, wait! Now we add salt? Why would we add it last and why isn’t it on the ingredient list? Salt is essentially a rock so we can’t burn it by adding it sooner. Honestly, the authors may have (inadvertently) gotten it right by adding the salt at the end. Salt can break down the oil/fat in which you’re cooking. However, you’re not going to be reusing this butter like you would the oil in a fryer. Nonetheless, this ingredient belongs on the list. I’ll concede that even if the authors meant to add salt to the dish at the table (shudder), all that ranting I did previously is now mostly moot.
There is also still the problem of how long we need to fry these potatoes. The authors can’t accurately tell us because the type of potatoes isn’t defined. Russet potatoes will cook differently than Yukon gold. They’ll have a different texture too. How can a home cook time their main dish to be done close to these potatoes being done as well? Additionally, it will be hard to get these potatoes crisp on the outside and done on the inside without burning them. The others don’t tell us what heat setting to use. I’d guess the fan trying to make this dish would lean towards the higher end of the spectrum in their chase for crisp. The potatoes will look done. But they’ll likely be undercooked.
Heroes’ Feast improves upon Otik’s original recipe
I won’t share the full recipe found in Heroe’s Feast, but I will share the ingredient list:
- 2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil, such as vegetable, canola, safflower, or grapeseed
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- Kosher salt
- 1 ½ pounds (about 4) Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed (or peeled if desired), quartered lengthwise, and cut into ¾-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
Now we’re getting somewhere. Still not enough cayenne in my opinion but the black pepper, garlic, and chives are going to add complexity to the flavor. I like it so far. Newman, Petesen, and Witwer clearly took some artistic liberty in their recreation of the boring original and it’s to everyone’s benefit. Weis and Hickman’s included. Their creation gets a chance of redemption by people who have a better understanding of cooking. We have a lot of specificity in this ingredient list. Therefore, our chances of error are minimized. I know exactly what kind of potato and onion and butter to use. If I deviate from the list then I cannot blame the authors if my dish turns out poorly.
This new recipe has three paragraphs of instructions and the detail is wonderful. In a nutshell, you soften the onions prior to cooking the potatoes, you soften the potatoes in the microwave (it’s a fancy gnomish tech gadget that’s all the rage now) before frying them in oil to address the doneness I mentioned above and you let them fry for 6 minutes or so undisturbed to get a good crispy crust developed before you go fussing with them or adding more ingredients to the mix. Their recipe is better than my own (I’m happy to say) and they’re absolutely worth writing about. Even still, I think they could be even better.
The Inn of the Last Home was a bar…
Newman, et al. did a great job reimagining the “Otik’s Spiced Potatoes” original recipe. I dare not trash their concoction. By all means, go with it! But when I think of Otik Sandath’s inn in Solace, I think of the modern sports bar. A place where people from all walks of life meet up for drinks, snacks, and fellowship of one form or another. I’m not much of a sports fan but there is a particular sports bar I love going to in better times (damn you, COVID-19!). They have a wall of all sorts of beers on tap and more in bottles. They do mixed drinks and even wines too. The food menu has a certain vibe to it. It’s pub food. There are plenty of shared appetizers and I think these spiced potatoes are great candidates for a communal platter with an accompanying dipping sauce.
In my latest efforts, I simmer baby potatoes with salt and a couple of bay leaves for 20 to 25 minutes. Adjust cook time for the size of your potatoes. You don’t want them to crumble in the next steps. Drain the potatoes and let them dry before coating them with oil (I like olive oil). Put them on a baking sheet and smash them thin with something flat. Add a bit more oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Broil them until they’re nice and crisp, turning once, for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve them with chipotle aioli for dipping. I’m still working on perfecting this style.
It’s easy to overcrowd the baking sheet by misjudging how much space the potatoes will take up once they’re smashed and I’m sometimes a lazy cook so I didn’t cook them in batches either time. This tends to prevent the potatoes from developing a good crust. So give them room to breathe.
Another thing, I believe Otik was a shrewd businessman. I think he used the hook of these potatoes to draw a crowd. They’re something that most people without dietary restrictions can agree on. Therefore you find them on most tables in his Inn at any given time. But the clever tactic is that Otik kicks up the heat in these potatoes to drive more ale sales. Or Dwarf Spirits…
I add heat to my potatoes without adulterating the flavor via aquaresin of capsicum. I use Frostbite Hot Sauce by CaJohns quite often (like in my beer). A drop or two per smashed potato is plenty to be noticeable. I suspect Otik used a similar tactic. This sauce is essentially colorless and flavorless. All heat and little else. If he had a table of tough guys he could add more to the potatoes than he might for a table of Solace regulars. The added heat definitely drives additional sales of drinks. How else would they put out the fire?