It's not that I couldn't fry potatoes. It's just that certain skills slip into hibernation when they're not used. And then it takes the right combination of time, space, equipment, and raw materials to waken the culinary operating system.
"Joze hash browns" just proved it. The recipe had come fresh from its creator, Jozseph Schultz of Santa Cruz, Calif. And since his restaurant, India Joze, is no longer in business, I'm free to praise it immoderately. No one who frequented that beach town during the '70s and '80s ever missed an occasion to eat at Joze. The hash browns alone were worth the trip. Or if you lived there, as I did, the hash browns were a Sunday brunch staple - along with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Far Eastern specialties.
I'd actually thought of those hash browns over the years since I left Santa Cruz. How I recently came into possession of the recipe is a worthy tale.
Earlier this year, this newspaper ran a story on an American named Sam Schultz, who lives in Indonesia and was in Banda Aceh supplying aid from a cargo boat to the survivors of last December's tsunami. (See Feb. 4 Monitor, "One man's mission to bring relief to cut-off villages.")
As a copy editor for this newspaper, I did a routine check and found that Sam Schultz had lived in Santa Cruz. That suggested something about Sam. Santa Cruz has been in the vanguard of many things: surfing, solar energy, hippie crafts, whole foods, and tree hugging - as well as unabashed humanitarianism.
It wasn't until we were off deadline that I could expand my check on Sam, just out of curiosity. That's when I learned that he had a brother in Santa Cruz, Jozseph Schultz, who had owned and operated India Joze.
Weeks later on my laptop, I followed through on the connection and came up with a website for "His Imperial Jozeness." He now teaches culinary arts at a community college and supports several community activities. I clicked the "contact" button.
In the ensuing e-mail exchange, I learned that India Joze, alas, had been sold, fumbled, and then closed. That's how I got the potato recipe. I just reminisced, and Jo generously supplied it. He even thought that Sam had probably been out in the kitchen frying those hash browns when I ate there.
When Jo mentioned that their father, Jack, a retired civil engineer, had gone to Banda Aceh and was building a school there, I had to ask what motivated his family's humanitarian activities. I waited a long week before the response came:
"I could say many things ... but I am very proud of my entire family. I am told there is a phrase in Japanese which responds to difficult questions by saying 'The question unsays itself.' "
After all that, the recipe didn't quite work. It's not that the creator left out a crucial ingredient - it was all the rest of the circumstances combined. For one thing, a pound and a half of sliced red potatoes is more than even two skillets can hold - and I had only one. Then the sliced veggies required different frying times, and my copper-clad stainless steel pan scorched some of them. Still worse, a friend who came for lunch said, "There's no flavor."
Oh, there was flavor, just not from the potatoes and veggies. Clearly, as a restaurant recipe, this requires a fair expanse of cook top. And then a recipe is only as good as its ingredients.
Santa Cruz was probably home to whole foods long before the rest of the nation. The supermarket produce I had used was truly tasteless. Just to prove the point, I made a miniversion for lunch last week. This time the veggies were fresh from a nearby natural-foods store and had sun bathed an hour or so on my window sill before preparation. I cut the potatoes in wedges instead of slices, the better to fit the frying pan.
This time I'm smiling! So, here's the recipe - with not only permission but "regardz" from His Imperial Jozeness.
1-1/2 pounds red potatoes
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
Salt and white pepper to taste
3/4 cup artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
3/4 of a medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
3/4 of a medium-size tomato, chopped
4 or 5 scallions, chopped
3 tablespoons sour cream for garnish
1. Slice potatoes 1/4 inch thick. Boil just until tender. Drain and cool.
2. Heat peanut oil in large heavy skillet. Fry potatoes until light brown.
3. Add sliced mushrooms and salt. Continue frying until mushrooms are lightly browned. Potatoes should be adequately salted at this point.
4. Add artichoke hearts, green pepper, and white pepper. Stir. Add tomato and green onions. Heat through.
5. Garnish with sour cream. Serve.
Notes: Recipe can be halved, even quartered. Don't skimp on the artichoke hearts, even if you have to buy two jars. And after you've dined, generously support your favorite charity.