This is for my best buddy Jeff. He's the kind of friend I'd do anything for and when we're together, there's no break in the laughter. I've known him since my radio days in New Orleans, but only recently began cooking for him, and these are his potatoes. One time I made them on vacation and ever since it's his number one request from me in the kitchen. Think of a potato gratin that is tender throughout, but also has a bit of crunch from a golden pan fry. Add gooey cheese and pico de gallo and it's kind of like a potato pizza born in Texas, though it was first made for Jeff on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Make it for your best friend and continue the chain.
1. Prepare the potatoes. Soak the potato slices covered by ice-cold water in a large bowl for 30 minutes, stirring a bit. Then transfer the potatoes to a colander and rinse until the water runs clear. Pour the potato slices onto a clean kitchen towel or several layered paper towels and dry as much as possible.
2. Fry the potatoes. In a large pan with straight sides or a stock pot on medium-high heat, add enough oil to fill to 1 inch deep. In batches, fry the potato slices, flipping halfway through until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes on each side. They should be stiff and crispy on the outside, but maintain a fleshy inside. Taste one, cook's treat! Remove each batch to a paper towel-lined plate and immediately season with a sprinkle of salt.
3. Prepare the pico de gallo. In a small bowl toss the tomatoes with the scallions, hot sauce, lime juice, cumin, cayenne pepper, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. Bake the potatoes. Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter the bottom of a pie pan or an 8x8-inch baking pan. Using half the potatoes, layer the slices in a circular pattern beginning on the outside of the pan and moving towards the center, with the slices slightly overlapping. Make sure to cover the entire bottom this way. Then evenly sprinkle half the cheddar/jack blend over the potato layer. On top of that sprinkle the pico de gallo, then add an even sprinkle of half the mozzarella. Repeat the layer one more time ending with the mozzarella cheese. Place in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and golden on the edges, about 18 minutes. Cut into slices and serve warm with a dollop of Mexican crema.
(c) 2013 by Sunny Anderson. Photographs copyright (c)2013 by John Lee. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House LLC.