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Adam Rees and Karen Reyes toast with JoJos at Gallucci's Pizzeria in Lincoln City. Below, Tups Bar & Grill head chef Chad Graves serves up a basket of giant jo jos, while owner Pat Holper looks on. OCT photos.
When Pat Holper bought Tups Bar and Grill last fall, she made a lot of changes. She built a new bar, upgraded the kitchen and made other improvements to this landmark restaurant at the southern edge of Lincoln City. Even so, there’s one thing that customers hope she’ll never change: Jo jos. “That’s the first question people ask us,” Holper says with a chuckle. “Do you still have broasted chicken and jo jos?’” From the looks of things, both regulars and visitors to the Oregon Coast are in love with the hot, crunchy, aromatic potato dish that we call jo jos. Alternately sold as JoJos, jo jo potatoes and other similar names, they are offered at restaurants, convenience stores and taverns all over the central coast, a nostalgic treat for many people who vacationed here as children. But are they, exactly, and what makes them so irresistible? We took an informal poll — over a beer, naturally, at one of the jo jos’ favorite hangouts, a tavern. We found that, at least in western Oregon, jo jos must be thick potato wedges, a) cut lengthwise, and b) covered with a light seasoned breading and c) served with ranch dressing or, if you must, ketchup. Jo jos are much bigger than French fries and usually bigger than steak fries, and unlike either, are cooked with their scrubbed skins on. And, while some places sell jo jos that have been baked, deep fried or otherwise cooked, the best have been prepared in a pressure fryer. It’s a method that was popularized in the 1950s by the Broaster Company of Beloit, Wis. The company makes the official Broaster machine and patented marinade, as well as the rights to use the word “broasted,” which was trademarked in 1954. But there are no licensed Broasters on the Oregon coast. What is commonly called “broasting” is still practiced, with pressure fryers made by a variety of companies, including Henny Penny. In these units, raw potatoes are submerged in hot cooking oil, which is then sealed with a pressure-lock lid, for 10 to 15 minutes. According to most sources, the pressure keeps moisture in and oil on the surface, giving chicken, potatoes or any other food a crunchy exterior with less grease and fewer calories. It was designed to give a fried chicken taste without all the fat, and is often used on chicken pieces — which are often served with a side of jo jos, fried in the same basket. From the diner’s perspective, the appeal is simple. Because a pressure fryer can only do one batch at a time, these items usually come out piping hot and crispy-delicious. From the cook’s point of view, serving pressure fried chicken and potatoes has advantages, too. The machine itself is not very large, and the pressure lock cover cuts down on mess — the perfect machine for the small kitchens found in most taverns. The head cook at Tups, Chad Graves, says his Henny Penny is cleaner and easier to maintain than his other frying equipment. Kitchen space was not an issue for Gallucci’s Pizzeria owner John Rees, however. He installed a pressure fryer simply because he thought his customers would like broasted-style chicken and jo jos. “I knew the previous owners had done it years ago,” Rees said, “and I thought it was time to bring it back.” Is the allure in the breading? At Gallucci’s, the potato wedges are tossed in a standard Southern-style chicken breading. At Tups, Pat Holper’s breading is a secret recipe, the same one she used back when she owned the Chowder Bowl in Depoe Bay in the 1990s, she said. The Spice Depot, an online spice purveyor, offers a product called “The World’s Best Jo Jo Potato Seasoning,” which lists the following ingredients: garlic, paprika, salt, rosemary, black pepper, basil, parsley, oregano and olive oil. Another recipe from the South is simpler, with flour, salt, paprika and parmesan cheese. Where did they come from? Jo jos probably originated, along with other dishes like pommes frites and scalloped potatoes, in the French speaking regions of Europe. Maine farmers of Acadian descent, who migrated from Nova Scotia and other French-speaking areas of Canada, call big, seasoned potato wedges by the same name: jo jos. This explains why jo jos are served on many Cajun menus in the French Quarter of New Orleans, also a destination for many Acadian migrants. But why, then, are jo jos also popular in Ohio and Iowa? The American love of fried foods, it would appear, has no boundaries, and the people who populated the West brought the jo jo with them. But no one seems to know how they got their name. The words could be rooted in any one of a number of languages, related to many but dependent on none. It’s a moniker that fits this simple dish, which has a universal comfort-food appeal. “It’s a bit like a baked potato,” said Graves, the head cook at Tups, “only crispy on the outside and soft, hot potato on the inside.”
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