Old-fashioned Potato O’Brien

When browsing through hundred-year magazines, I came across a recipe for Potato O’Brien. Diced potatoes (that are first boiled) and green pepper are immersed in a hot and bubbly mild cheese sauce. The dish is then browned in the oven.

This version of Potato O’Brien is a little different from most modern recipes (which generally call for frying the potatoes), but it’s delicious. It reminds me a little of Scalloped Potatoes, but with cheese and green peppers.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: American Cookery (June – July, 1918)

This recipe contained several firsts for me. It’s the first hundred-year-old recipe that I’ve ever seen that called for American Cheese. I googled it, and learned from Wikipedia that:

After the official invention of processed cheese in 1911, and its subsequent popularization by James L. Kraft in the late-1910s and the 1920s, the term “American cheese” rapidly began to refer to this variety, instead of the traditional but more expensive cheddars also made and sold in the US.

Apparently by 1918, American cheese was commonly enough available that it was included in recipes published in magazines.

It’s also the first hundred-year-old recipe that I’ve ever seen that called for skim milk. I’m not clear to me why skim milk is preferred in this dish, so when I updated the recipe I just listed milk as an ingredient.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Potato O'Brien

  • Servings: 3 - 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

4 medium potatoes (about 2 cups, diced)

1 tablespoon butter

1 green pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup milk

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup American cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 425Β° F.

Peel and dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. Put diced potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Put on high heat and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 10 minutes).

In the meantime, in a skillet, melt butter using low heat. Add the green pepper;Β  saute until tender, and then stir in the flour, salt, and pepper. While stirring constantly, slowly pour in milk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted. Gently stir in the cooked potatoes. Put into a baking dish and place in the oven. Bake until the top is lightly browned (about 20 – 30 minutes).

One teaspoon of salt seemed like a lot to me, so when I updated the recipe, I used less salt than was called for in the original recipe. I also sauted the green pepper in butter, rather than cooking it separately first.

19 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Potato O’Brien

  1. It’s odd to think of a recipe transforming from a cheesy dish to one without cheese. I feel like the normal progression is to add more cheese, not less.

    1. I had a similar reaction, yet this is how Wikipedia describes this dish (and it aptly describes current Potato O’Brien recipes which are posted online).

      “Potatoes O’Brien is a dish of pan-fried potatoes along with green and red bell peppers. The potatoes and the bell peppers are fried (varying according to taste) and are served hot. The origin of the dish is disputed. The dish has been claimed to originate in the early 1900s from a Boston restaurant known as Jerome’s and from a Manhattan restaurant known as Jack’s during the same time period.”

    1. The green pepper works well with the potatoes. I also don’t usually use processed cheese, but I was so intrigued that a hundred-year-old recipe called for it, that I used it when I made this recipe.

  2. I like the addition of the green peppers I always parboil potatoes if I am adding to a cheese sauce but I don’t use processed cheeses just hard cheddar. Unusual name and one I hadn’t heard of before πŸ™‚

      1. According to Wiki…Potatoes O’Brien is a dish of pan-fried potatoes along with green and red bell peppers. The potatoes and the bell peppers are fried (varying according to taste) and are served hot. The origin of the dish is disputed. The dish has been claimed to originate in the early 1900s from a Boston restaurant known as Jerome’s and from a Manhattan restaurant known as Jack’s during the same time period. And O’Brien is and Irish name so possibly an Irish/American dish as the Irish love potatoes πŸ™‚

  3. Oh,yes this is a good dish,especially for those left over baked patotoes,or fried ones. These are also really good to made ahead of time for a camping trip!

    1. I also was amazed that processed cheese has been around so long. I never had really thought about it before I saw this recipe – but I think that I might have guessed that processed cheese had been invented in the mid-twentieth century.

  4. Boston and green (peppers) probably are the source of the name because of the Irish connection. The first thing I thought of was Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans, although that establishment came along later, around 1930 or so.

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