this thing's incredible

Carla Lalli Music’s Go-To, No-Frills Steamer Will Have You Making the Best Potatoes of Your Life

Photo: Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers

When Carla Lalli Music used her stainless-steel steamer to cook a sweet potato for baby food, she “fell in love with” the easy, forgiving, and delicious method. “I don’t think I’ve ever replaced my steamer, and my oldest kid is almost 18, so that means I’ve had this one for probably 20 years,” she says about the adaptable, collapsible, and (obviously) durable model she keeps in her kitchen.

There are, of course, a few different kinds of steamers: bamboo ones with their own domed lids, meant to sit on the outer rim of a pot (Music has several of these, too); basket inserts that come along when you buy a particular pan, meant to fit snugly inside; and even relatively expensive electric machines that plug into an outlet, another appliance to line up next to your blender or rice cooker. But none is quite as convenient as that stainless-steel version.

“It doesn’t matter what size pot it’s going into, or whether that pot is wide or narrow,” she says. “It doesn’t burn or splinter, which sometimes the bamboo ones do. It folds up, so you can store it pretty much anywhere. Mine is nested inside of my colanders. You can put it in the dishwasher, and it doesn’t get that weird sticky feeling that can happen to ones with silicone handles.” Basically, it’s everything it needs to be and absolutely nothing it doesn’t — the reason she reaches for it time and time again.

This is especially true when it comes to preparing potatoes. “They’re pretty fibrous,” Music explains. “When you roast them in an attempt to get them crispy, you can actually kind of dry them out and make them chewy. But when you steam them, they become very fluffy, very moist, and very mashable. You just get a texture that is really hard to achieve any other way.”

Steamed potatoes tossed with butter and chives are delicious all on their own, Music says. But if you do want a crispy, caramelized exterior, steaming is still very much worth it as the first part of a two-pronged approach. She does this in a couple potato recipes in her book. One is a loaded sweet potato that gets steamed and then seared in a pan. Another, which you can find below, is delightfully called Potato Insanity. In fact, it’s an apt title for something that upon first glance seems like regular old roasted spuds, but deserves a way more enthusiastic introduction — all thanks to a humble tool transforming a humble ingredient.

How to make Music’s Potato Insanity

Fill a pot with a few inches of water and set a steamer basket inside. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Scrub 1½ pounds small waxy potatoes (like German Butterballs or fingerlings) and place them inside the steamer basket. Cover and cook until the potatoes are completely tender when pierced with a cake tester (or cut one of the larger ones in half to check). This should take about 15–20 minutes. Drain the potatoes, let them cool completely (you can do this up to two days ahead and let them chill in the fridge until you’re ready to go), and then cut them in half lengthwise.

Next, heat a large heavy skillet (one that’s at least 10 inches) over medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom. Working in batches if necessary, place the potatoes in the pan, cut side down, and cook, undisturbed, until the surfaces are crisp and very dark mahogany in color, 7–10 minutes. Rotate the pan occasionally to help them cook evenly, but keep them cut side down.

Transfer to a serving platter, cut side up, and season with salt. Serve immediately, or transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in a 350-degree oven for up to 30 minutes before serving.

Recipe from That Sounds So Good by Carla Lalli Music. Copyright © 2021 by Carla Lalli Music. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Carla Lalli Music’s Go-To, No-Frills Steamer