Idaho’s food scene is no small potatoes.
Terrible jokes aside, Idaho truly does produce a fine spud. Growing conditions are ideal for russet potatoes, along with a slew of other varieties.
But Idaho is so much more than just potatoes.
Idaho is home to the second-largest population of Basque people in the U.S. That amounts to around 15,000 people, unless it’s festival time, when the population triples.
The Basque people are a European ethnic group who share a common culture, language and genetic ancestry. They primarily inhabit an area straddling north-central Spain and southwestern France known as the Basque Country.
Why Idaho? Basques were drawn in by the discovery of silver mines in the mid-1800s; those who didn’t have success in the mines resorted to ranching, feeding the miners with their sheep and cattle. They settled in, leading to Idaho’s thriving Basque American (and sheep) population today.
Recipes and cooking styles were passed down so that pockets of Idaho are still dotted with restaurants with French and Spanish menu items. Deliciously deep-fried croquettes may be French and the vibrant colors and flavors of paella may be Spanish, but they are also Basque.
Idaho also lays claim to finger steaks, which were supposedly invented by a Boise restaurant owner in the 1950s. My only experience with finger steaks was in the grade school cafeteria, where they were served alongside mashed potatoes and gravy. They are the beef equivalent to chicken fingers — battered, deep-fried and terribly delicious.
I included a recipe below for a baked version that’s pretty decent, but do fry those suckers if you’re feeling indulgent. Don’t forget the Idaho potatoes, mashed of course.
When in season, Idaho black huckleberries can be found in everything fresh, frozen and otherwise. Idaho’s state fruit is similar in flavor and appearance to blueberries, although smaller and with thinner skins. Not grown commercially, you’re on your own to find huckleberries, although I’ve heard stories of them growing around these parts. They are a favorite of bears, so keep your wits about you.
I’ve saved the best for last. The people of Idaho have embraced the potato in such a wholehearted way that the ice cream potato has become a festival and food truck standard.
An oblong blob of vanilla ice cream is formed into a potato shape, rolled in cocoa powder and cut open lengthwise to reveal its creamy white insides. It’s then filled with whipped cream to resemble sour cream, yellow sprinkles to mimic shredded cheese and green sprinkles play the part of chopped green onions. I’m sure there are roles to play for bacon and even chili too.
Idaho, I barely know you, but I love you. Get a taste for Idaho with these recipes.
Baked Parmesan hash brown cups
4 cups grated potatoes, patted dry
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
Onion or garlic powder, optional and to taste
Ketchup, sour cream or your favorite condiments, for serving
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan very well with cooking spray or grease and flour the pan; set aside.
In a large bowl, add all ingredients and gently toss to combine. Distribute evenly into muffin pan. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until edges are browned and crisp. Allow hash browns to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes in muffin pan on top of a wire rack before gently rimming each cavity with a knife to dislodge. Serve warm.
Recipe adapted from www.averiecooks.com.
Oven-baked steak fingers
1 pound round steak
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pound the steak with a meat tenderizer. Cut into evenly sized strips or nuggets. Lightly season the meat with salt and pepper.
Whisk the egg and milk together in a medium-sized bowl. Add the meat to the bowl and mix well. Mix the flour and cornmeal together in another medium-sized bowl.
Dredge the beef through the flour mixture one piece at a time. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and arrange the steak on the cookie sheet. Coat with cooking spray. Bake until the steak fingers are cooked thoroughly, about 30 to 45 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Recipe source: www.thedailymeal.com.
Quick and easy paella
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon saffron threads
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 link Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced
2 cups boneless chicken breast, cut into small pieces
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups paella rice (basmati is a good substitute)
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
Combine chicken broth and saffron in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and keep it warm over low heat. Do not boil.
Rinse and pat dry the shrimp with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
In a large paella pan, or a very large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add chorizo to the skillet, sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Add chicken to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add onion and red pepper; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add rice; cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Stir in hot chicken broth, cooked chorizo, tomatoes, lemon juice, paprika, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and parsley; mix to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and bring to simmer; cook, for 10 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed most of the broth and is almost tender.
Arrange shrimp over the rice. Scatter peas over. Reduce heat to low, cover with foil or lid, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until rice is tender. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and more chopped parsley, if desired.
Recipe adapted from www.mommyshomecooking.com.