Island Dining: Dottie Potatoes
Raymond VanSantvoord was president of Cohoes Coal & Oil Company and president of Cohoes National Bank. To his friends, he was known as “Zig.” Zig had a lot of friends on Lake George because he was the proud owner of a 32-foot cabin cruiser berthed on the lake.
Zig married my aunt, Mildred Osterhout, in February of 1956, retired from business and moved to Bolton Landing. The two of them enjoyed going out on the lake for picnics on their boat, Loafer II. Often Zig’s sister, Dottie, would accompany them.
Dottie was famous for her potato salad, which she would make fresh, bringing all of the ingredients from her home in Cohoes. Everybody loved Dottie’s potato salad. A picnic without her potato salad just wasn’t a picnic.
Zig and Millie planned a picnic for 10 people the last Saturday in August, 1956 and invited Dottie to join them. As always, Dottie said she would make the potato salad. Everybody boarded the boat at Lamb Brothers boatyard and the crew headed for Picnic Island in the Mother Bunch.
Steak was on the menu that day as Millie had gotten some juicy T-bones from Harry Mabee at the City Market in Bolton Landing. Once the fire settled down and the coals got hot, Dottie got set to put together her famous potato salad.
Much to her dismay, Dottie discovered that the grocery bag which contained the necessary ingredients to mix with the potatoes was nowhere to be found. She was beside herself, as this would be a first…no fresh potato salad from Dottie. Zig was beside himself as well. He wanted potatoes to go with his steak and corn-on-the-cob.
Dottie did bring the sack of baking potatoes (she liked them better than the russets) and a bag of onions along with a bottle of cooking oil. It was a secret, but we later found out she always added a cup of cooking oil to the water when she boiled the potatoes. Zig could still get his potatoes, but she didn’t want plain-old boiled potatoes with her steak. To her, they just didn’t go together.
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Dottie rummaged through the galley on Zig’s cruiser and found two 10-inch cast-iron skillets. She poured some of the cooking oil into the skillets, grabbed a bunch of the fist-sized spuds, sliced them into thirds and tossed them, skin and all, into the oil. Both skillets were placed a few inches over the hot coals and the oil began to sizzle.
Next, she gave a few shakes of salt and pepper over the mixture, peeled the onions and sliced them into quarter-inch rings. After turning the potatoes a few times in the hot oil they began to turn golden brown. Dottie pushed aside a half-dozen of the now dark-brown spuds and dropped a couple of handfuls of the onions into each skillet.
Within minutes everyone gathered around the fire, drawn by the smell of the sizzling onions and the well-cooked potatoes. Zig cooked the steaks and they all sat down at the picnic table, somewhat apprehensive about Dottie’s newest recipe.
It was a hit! Everyone agreed…these were the best potatoes they ever had with a steak dinner…crispy skin on the outside with a soft, moist center, steeped in the flavor of sautéed onions.
From that day forward, when Dottie went on a picnic she made her special “Dottie Potatoes.” I grew up enjoying them and cooking them on family outings. Today, when our family goes on a picnic the first question asked is “Buzz, are you going to make Dottie Potatoes?” The answer is always “Yes”.
Put 1/4 to 1/2 inch of Wesson Oil in the cast iron skillet.
Cut two or three large baking potatoes into thirds (skin on).
Peel and slice (quarter inch thickness) two large onions and separate slices into rings.
Sprinkle cut side of potatoes with salt, pepper and dried parsley flakes.
Put potatoes into cast iron pan cut side down.
Put pan on gas grill and close the lid to get the oil to the boiling point.
After about 10 minutes turn the potatoes over or onto their sides.
Turn potatoes again after 10 minutes making sure all side get immersed in the oil.
Continue turning routine until cut sides are a little darker than golden brown.
Move the potatoes to one side of the pan stacking them on top of each other.
Add the sliced onions to the hot oil (watch out for splattering).
Move the potatoes to on top of the onion slices and distribute evenly in the pan.
When the onions are golden brown (about 10 minutes) the “Dottie Potatoes” are ready to enjoy.
Total cooking time is generally about 40 minutes depending on how hot the grill is..
Enjoy a glass of wine, cold beer or your favorite libation while you wait for this delicacy to cook.