The one true salt potato

I give you the humble salt potato, Syracuse’s gift to the world. Unlike the rest of Upstate cuisine, there are no great secrets about the salt potato to protect. This post reveals all.

Unlike some other Upstate foods, you don’t need a special sauce or marinade to make salt potatoes. Nor do you need a special plate or blueprint for assembly. Just some melted butter. The butter can come from anywhere.

You don’t need special salt. Just… a lot of salt. The salt can also come from anywhere. It used to come from Syracuse, but we don’t mine salt here any more. So, feel free to use your own salt. It won’t make your salt potatoes any less delicious or any less authentic.

You can use any potato, as long as it’s a small one, and as long as it’s a white potato. Hinerwadel’s is a popular brand, but they didn’t invent them. The salt potato was invented by the working man slaving in the salt mines, not some restaurant owner who was running out of ideas. A few years ago, someone was selling counterfeit Hinerwadel’s in stolen bags. Aside from the parties involved, nobody cared. There was little public outrage. It was a non-story (save for the spectacle of Germans and Italians fighting for control over a delicacy that was probably originated by Irishmen).

So, use any small potato you like — as long as it’s not red. Red salt potatoes are an abomination before God. I have heard rumors of their use. If you are in some other part of the country, like North Carolina for instance, and you are serving red salt potatoes, you need to come back to the Old Country for a little bit and get your mind right.

But you don’t even have to go to Hinerwadel’s clambake in North Syracuse in order to get a “real” salt potato. You know, we don’t have anyone making a crapload of tourist business off these things. No one claiming to be the inventor, no one claiming to be the One and Only. No Nick Tahou’s here. And we don’t have a salt potato festival, or salt potato contests. Just boil them and eat them. Throw your own party. That’s where you’ll find them.

11 thoughts on “The one true salt potato

  1. Peter

    I just can’t get my salt potatoes to taste like a Syracuse salt potato. I didn’t realize that red salt potatoes were an abomination. I’ve been guilty, but now I know. When is the Hinerwadel Claimbake held?

  2. Taylor Made

    Like most of upstate cuisine except for Buffalo wings and Greens Morelle – the salt potato exhibits that uniquely je ne sais quoi “north of Westchester” quality…namely it is exceptionally dull and boring.

    I remember the first time that someone shoved salt potatoes on my plate — it was a Rotary picnic in a local burg. I still recall trying to find a big napkin so that I could politely place the offered piece of local haute cuisine into the nearest trash bin.

    Sorry — but salt potatoes fit into that culinary category of something that is an acquired local taste; like unfermented kumis or the like. My wife and I just smile and move on when these abominations are offered all the while hoping we can avoid the napkin dumpster deception.

  3. Phil

    The salt potato as presented in CNY is just a delivery mechanism for salt and butter. I agree with Taylor–exceptionally bland. However, fiddle with the basic premise and the simpilcity can be made to work. I prefer a slathering of olive oil, garlic and mint: healthier, tastier and still not difficult to pull off at a picnic.

  4. sean

    this may seem like an obvious question, but is the salt potato a cny invention, or a universal offering that became especially popular and creative here because of, well, salt and potatoes?


  5. Ellen

    The story goes that workers decided to boil some taters for lunch and used the nearest vat of boiling liquid they could find – the brine vat. Voila, salty potatoes. The salt flavor must have just been an accidental side effect.

    I would guess, if there is any novelty involved, it has to do with the small size of the potatoes, which gives the salt a fighting chance to inundate the whole potato. Many salt potatoes I’ve had recently are way too big (Hinerwadel’s seems guilty of selling these) and don’t seem salty enough. I don’t think they should be much bigger than an egg, but often are.

    This page has some old newspaper references to the salt potato’s identification with Syracuse.

  6. George

    The salt potato was invented by Irish workers in the salt boiling blocks. They also cooked sweet corn in the same water by pulling back the husks, removing the silk and tying up the husk with string. Salt potatoes were a part of many tavern’s free lunch for years. There still is a salt spring on Onondaga Lake parkway where my parents would get a gallon or two of salt water to boil potatoes in.
    The mistake most places make that serve them today is to use melted butter. As the potatoes come out of the boiling brine the water evaporates and leaves behind a thin coating of very fine salt crystals on the skin. (you DID leave the skins on, didn’t you?) Pouring on melted butter just washes that off. The original technique was to squeeze the potato until it breaks open and plop a chunk of cold butter on top and eat the whole thing at once.

  7. big mike

    Taylor Made, and the rest of you pretentious fools, can, and should, catch a train back to the city and try to find the hottest new restaurant serving micro greens and Berkshire pork dumplings. “North of Westchester je ne sais quoi”? Elitist much? If you ever had a bland salt potato, it was improperly prepared. They should be tiny potatoes, crusted in salt, and served piping hot after being tossed in butter (or a little olive oil and chopped fresh herbs). No, they don’t go with poached Kona Kampachi and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but there is no better accompaniment to corn on the cob, cold beer, and clams, crabs, or lobsters.

  8. peterd

    for the record, salt wasn’t MINED in ‘cuse, it was extracted from the brine marshes of onondaga lake before it became one of the most polluted bodies of water in north america

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