Some years ago, when I was still school age, my parents used load us up in the car to go spend the evening with their friends, Lucky and Dennis. Lucky had been a college roommate of my mother's, and Dennis had been a college roommate of my dad's. Imagine that. Anyway, Lucky is not generally known for her culinary skill, so dinners down there were pretty basic--we called them "Standard Chicken Dinner." Baked faux-shake 'n bake chicken, stove top stuffing, and green beans was the menu for just about every visit. To this day, I occasionally make Standard Chicken Dinner just for the trip down memory lane.
On rare occasions, though, I remember dining on purchased fried chicken and these phenomenal things called Jo Jo potatoes. As near as I could tell, they were just potato wedges, but they had some sort of wonderful, crumbly seasoning crust on them--I could easily have eaten the whole order myself. Maybe it was just the welcome departure from Standard Chicken Dinner, but I always hoped that those Jo Jo things would end up on the table during our visits. I never knew where they came from, and Lucky and Dennis live about an hour away from my parents, so the Jo Jo shop certainly wasn't convenient to our home. Those delicious potatoes became legendary in my mind, both because of their inherent yumminess and their illusive nature. I could never really have them when I wanted them, so anytime they showed up, it was miraculous.
Years later, in my travels as an adult, I'd catch glimpses of Jo Jo potatoes at random delis and take-out places, even at the occasional gas station. But I suppose that there's not really a standard definition out there of what makes a Jo Jo potato, because all of these potatoes I was encountering were shockingly different--some had a thick, crisp crust on them and were heavily spiced, while others were softer, milder, with more of a crumbly coating. Some were just fried potatoe wedges, plain and simple. None matched up the the wonder that was the Jo Jos of my youth--I suppose life is like that a lot; you can't go home again, and all of that. So I gave up hope and forgot all about them.
Then, a week or two ago, I was looking at a blog called Chocolate and Zucchini. I only visited because the name sounded intriguing, and it turns out that the author is one of those serious French foodies who eats things like quail eggs en papillote with a melange of turnip greens and fennel. (I made that one up, but she eats some really strange stuff.) Many of her posts are too bizarre for me, but here and there, she posts something I can get behind. Her post called "Deluxe Potatoes" caught my eye, mostly because the words "deluxe" and "potatoes" used in the same phrase suggest a dish I will most certainly enjoy. So I checked it out, and darned if the photo she posted of said potatoes didn't closely resemble those Jo Jos I'd enjoyed so much as a kid. They didn't look quite as crumbly, and they called for whole mustard seeds, which don't happen to reside in my spice collection, but just the same, that post rekindled the hope within me that I would someday get to taste these tasty fries (though it almost seems sacrilegious to call them that).
So after a little research and a few modifications to the recipes I found, I present to you the recipe for Jo Jo Potatoes as I served them tonight. They still aren't the real deal, but they're the closest I've tasted thus far. And my kids scarfed them up like they were going out of style, so they're a keeper, in my book, Grail or not.
Jo Jo Potatoes
4-5 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed well, but not peeled
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted
1/2 c. fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. flour
2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
dash cayenne (optional)
First of all, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Then, toss all of the dry ingredients into a gallon-size Ziploc bag and shake to combine. The measurements there for the seasonings are guidelines--feel free to alter them as you wish, or measure them in your palm and skip the measuring spoons altogether. So long as you start with approximate amounts of the bread crumbs, flour, and Parmesan, you can't really go too far wrong.
Then, cut your potatoes into wedges--I generally get about 8 wedges from each potato, but the important thing is not the number, but that they're more or less evenly sized, so they all cook at the same rate.
Dunk your wedges in the melted butter, then shake them, a few at a time, in the Parmesan mixture, and arrange on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Stand them up with the skin side on the bottom if you can, but if they want to lay on their sides instead, that's fine--just flip them halfway through the cooking time.
If you have any leftover butter, drizzle it over top of the potatoes before you pop them into the preheated oven. Or don't, if all that butter scares you. But then, if butter scares you, you're probably not making this recipe, or any other recipes on this blog, for that matter. Bake for about 35 minutes or until they're tender and browned, then wallow in their scrumptiousness.