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The Potato Primer

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The Potato Primer

Author: Jack Lang (Jackal10)

This is by no means a definitive survey of potato recipes, although it contains (with all the variations) over 130 recipes. However, I hope it explains some common myths and offers a few surprises. For even more dishes watch for Potatoes - Part II or consult some of the references.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

Anatomy of a Spud

•Skin

•Flesh

•Pith

Variables to Consider When Cooking Potatoes

•Texture

•Sugar Content

•Skin Thickness

Potato Varieties

•UK

•USA

Cooking Methods

•Boiling

14 variations, including Basic boiled potatoes, Persilles, Delmonico, and Potato Salad

•Pureed

38 variations in total

Basic Mashed Potatoes with 14 variants. including Champ or Stelk and Colcannon;

5 sauteed mash, 6 deep fried mash, Duchesse (3 variants), Dauphine(6 variants). Potato Soufflee, Potato Scones and Gnocchi (3 sauces)

•Baking and Casseroles

24 variations, including Basic Baked Potatoes, Alphonse, Stuffed (double baked), Menagere, Classic and Quick Potato Gratin a la Dauphinoise

•Deep-Frying

21 variations, including Basic Chips (UK) or Fries (US), Chip Butties, Pommes Soufflee, Basic Crisps(UK) or Chips(US) and Oven Crisps

•Shallow Frying

36 variations, including Potato Latkes, Chateau, Fondant, Plain Sauteed, Rosti and Hash-browns both Cubed and Grated

•Roasting

3 types including Basic Roasted Potatoes, Hasselbacks and Potatoes and Rice

Introduction

Potatoes are one of the great staples of the western-style diet. In the US over 500 million cwt are produced in a trade worth billions of dollars.

The average American eats 142.7 pounds of potatoes each year, mostly fried. That diet is broken into the following proportions:

48.1 pounds Fresh Potatoes, or cooked from fresh

58.9 pounds Frozen products: French fries, hash browns, etc.

16.0 pounds Potato chips (crisps and snack foods)

18.0 pounds Dehydrated - mashed potato flakes, au gratin mixes, etc.

1.7 pounds Canned

In Ireland, and some parts of Europe the average annual consumption is over 200lbs per head.

However, the spread of potatoes is quite a recent event and it has only been a major component of the diet since Victorian times.

Potatoes are native to the highlands of Peru in South America, and were enjoyed by the Inca peoples. The Spanish Conquistadores discovered them about 1537, with some of the earliest written descriptions dating from about 1550. They were introduced to the UK in about 1590, with legend (and the scribe Gerard) ascribing the introduction to Drake and Raleigh bringing them from Virginia. Presumably they were taken to Virginia by the Spanish who had obtained them in trade with the Incas. It was, however, not until the mid-eighteenth century that selective breeding allowed the potato to be more than a small knobbly curiosity, grown as much for its decorative flowers as for its roots. Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers in her hair.

The change from a feudal society, the increased demands of towns, and poor cereal harvests in the late eighteenth century, all helped the spread of potato cultivation, since they were easier to grow than corn, and more tolerant of cold and wet. The Corn Laws of 1815 kept the price of corn high, and made potatoes the food of the poor. Indeed, the over-reliance on a single food crop led directly to the Irish Potato famine of 1845-50, when blight caused the crop to fail

Potatoes are now grown in over 80 countries. There are over a thousand named varieties, with about 700 in major seed banks, but only about 100 in commercial cultivation and 50 or so in good seed catalogues.

The Latin name for the potato plant is Solanum tuberosum, which indicates that it is part of the Solanaceae or nightshade botanical family. This family includes tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, as well as deadly nightshade. In fact, every part of the plant, apart from the tubers, is mildly poisonous and should not be eaten.

Potatoes should be stored dark and cool, but not frozen. If they are stored in the light they may go green. The green parts should not be eaten as they may also be mildly toxic.

Anatomy of a Potato

A potato has three main regions:

The skin or periderm: A good source of fibre and minerals. The thickness and toughness vary with variety and with age. Although higher in fibre and minerals than the rest of the potato, the skin is so thin in most varieties that this is not a significant source of these elements for human nutrition, so there is no need to feel guilty about peeling old potatoes and discarding the peelings. For new (immature) potatoes the skin is even thinner, and there is no need to peel, since the skin in these varieties contributes to the flavour. For very fresh new potatoes the skin will rub off.

The main flesh: This can be white or golden yellow, or in specialist varieties even red or purple.

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Salad Blue, Salad Red and Arran Pilot. The red and blue are old varieties rescued by Heligan Gardens and sold as microplants by Mr Fothergill and other specialist suppliers. They keep their colour best if dry cooked: fried, microwaved or steamed. There is a photo of some fries made with blue potatoes in the section on deep-frying.

The Pith: Some varieties have a watery or even a hollow core.

Variables to Consider When Cooking Potatoes

Texture.

There are three main categories:

- Low moisture/high starch/high dry-weight/floury

These tend to be larger, main crop potatoes, like Idaho (Russet Burbank) or King Edward that are good for baking, mashing, and roasting, but will disintegrate if boiled too long. When cooked the texture is dry and floury.

- Moderate moisture/starch/dry-weight/waxy

All-purpose potatoes such as Yukon Gold or Nicola. Their flesh may be yellow, and they keep their shape after cooking. Good for sauté, potato salads and casseroles like Dauphinoise.

- Low moisture/starch/dry-weight/new

Typically immature or new potatoes, and some fingerling varieties such as Pink Fir Apple. Delicious simply boiled, and served in their skins.

Sugar content, which affects browning when frying.

Sugars increase if the potatoes have been stored for some time, or have been harvested late in the season. Too high a sugar content means that the chip will colour before crisping.

Skin thickness.

Older potatoes have thicker skins, and should be peeled. New potatoes should just be well scrubbed.

Potato Varieties

In the UK Potatoes can be divided according to season into:

Extra Early (May): Lady Christi, Rocket, Swift, Maris Bard, Jersey Royal

First Earlies (June): Duke of York, Red Duke of York, Foremost, Sharpes Express, Epicure, Arran Pilot, Wilja

Second Earlies(July): Charlotte, Kestral, Yukon Gold, Edzell Blue

Maincrop (September): Desiree, King Edward, Cara, Valour, Majestic

Salad and specialty: Nicola, Pink Fir Apple, Salad Blue, Salad Red

You can find the British potato Database here.

My personal favourites are:

Jersey Royal from Jersey for the first taste of new potatoes

First Early: Arran Pilot – waxy, wonderful heritage potato taste

Second Early: Yukon Gold

Maincrop: King Edward: floury, Cara waxy

Salad: Nicola, Pink Fir (fingerling), Salad Blue

In the US skin colour is used. There is a good guide to US varieties here:

Russet: e.g. Burbank Russet

White: e.g. Kennenbec

Red: e.g. Norland

Other

These days all types are available all year round, flown from various parts of the world. Various techniques of storage and cultivation, such as second cropping, even allow fresh new potatoes in December. Personally I try not to eat out-of-season potatoes, as I think that it spoils the first magical taste of a fresh new potato in May, heralding summer. Bring back heritage and local, seasonal varieties!

Cooking methods.

Boiling

Basic technique

What could be simpler and nicer than a good new potato, scrubbed, and boiled, in lightly salted water until it is just soft, drained and anointed with a knob of good butter?

(Pink Fir apple fingerling potatoes)

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Older potatoes should be peeled and cut into pieces of equal thickness, so that they all cook in the same time. In a classical kitchen they would be turned to identical 7-sided barrel shapes.

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(Thanks to Marsha Lynch (zilla369) for the picture from the knife skills course)

Plain boiled are called • Pommes de Terre Anglais or • Pommes de terre au Natural in Restaurant French, or • Pommes de terre au vapeur if steamed.

Variations

• Persilles: Roll the cooked potatoes in melted butter and in chopped parsley.

• a la Menthe: Add a bunch of mint to the cooking water, and then dress the potatoes with fresh mint leaves or chopped mint. Some find mint essential with new potatoes.

• Irlandaise: Ribbon shaped.

• Berichonne: Cook in stock. Dress with fried bacon bits, fried onions and chopped parsley.

• Au Lard: Dress with chopped fried bacon bits.

• Bretonne: Cut into large dice then cook in stock. Finish with garlic and tomato dice.

• A la crème (also called • Maire): When cooked slice into thick roundels, moisten with boiling cream, season and reduce.

• Maitre d’Hotel: A La crème with chopped parsley.

• Delmonico: as A La crème, cover with breadcrumbs and brown in the oven.

• Flamande: Cook in stock with small onions and carrots.

• Hongroise: As Bretonne but with paprika, onions and chopped parsley.

• Paysanne: Cook in stock with garlic, add shredded sorrel or spinach and parsley.

• Crushed: Cheffy version of lumpy mash. Use leftovers for hash.

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• Caramel Potatoes

This is a Scandinavian dish, also found in Iceland.

For 1lb/500g of boiled potatoes, make a soft caramel with 5 Tbs of sugar and 1

Tbs butter heated in a pan until well coloured, then pour over the potatoes.

• Salad

Several religious debates here. However, all versions are authentic. Develop one to your own taste.

New potatoes or old? If new potatoes peeled or unpeeled? Minted or not?

Peel when hot or cold or before cooking?

Vinaigrette, Mayo, or even Salad Cream? Hot-dressed or cold?

Chives, Spring Onions, diced onions, gherkins, cubes of cheese?

Don’t overcook the potatoes or they will crumble. Cook until they are only just tender, and remember they will go on cooking as they cool.

My ideal potato salad is made with a waxy potato like Nicole, cooked until just tender, but slightly undercooked, cooked with the skins on then peeled, diced into about 1 cm/½ inch dice, hot dressed with plenty of strong mayonnaise, plus some additional white wine vinegar, or even with Heinz Salad Cream, with plenty of chives, or spring onions.

<a name="Pureed">Pureed</a>

This section starts with mash, and then looks at variations.

Too often, mashed potato is either a lumpy or a gluey mess. Worst of all is the reconstituted dehydrated packet offering that can easily double as wallpaper paste.

What goes wrong?

We need to consider the structure of the potato. It consists of lots of cells, held together with pectic polysaccaride material, which is similar to the pectin that is the setting agent in jam. Each of these cells is a bag of starch. The trick to making good textured mashed potato is to break the cells apart without rupturing them and releasing their starch to float around in the water. When you heat starch in the presence of water it swells and gelatinises – think of making custard or wallpaper paste. The starch molecules bond to each other to make a gel. That’s wallpaper paste.

Overcook, and you break up the cells and get glue. Over process, such as with a blender and you mechanically shear the cells and get glue. As Steingarten says “Any cookbook that sanctions the use of a blender or food processor should be carefully shredded”.

If you let the starch out you get gluey wallpaper paste. If you don’t break apart the cells enough you get lumps. You are between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Fortunately we can use another property of starch, which is known as “retrogradation”. If you cool a starch gel down it thickens and solidifies (think of pastry, or custard), and it retains its structure even if reheated. This property is widely used in the commercial processing of potatoes for dehydrated potato flakes (instant mash, such as the brand that was promoted with TV adverts featuring tin Martians), and has been adapted and written about for home and restaurant use by Steingarten, Blumenthal and others.

The trick is to pre-cook the potatoes to about 71C/160F for about 30 minutes and then cool to room temperature or below. The starch swells and gelatinises in the cells, but the temperature is not hot enough to melt the pectic material and break or separate the cells The ensuing cold step is essential, as it causes the starch to retrograde and fix. Temperature control is critical. Use a digital thermometer.

Having fixed the starch we can be much rougher in the treatment of the potatoes. We can dissolve the binding between the cells by cooking the potato slices in gently salted water above 82C/180F and ideally below boiling so they don’t get knocked about too much – say 90C/190F or a very gentle simmer for 30 minutes, and then drain, dry and puree.

This method ensures that the mash does not go gluey, but at the same time can be cooked long enough and pureed well enough to ensure no lumps. Furthermore it can be allowed to go cold and reheated without loss of quality.

Before giving the definitive mashed potato recipe we need to cover some other points:

Choice of variety: Floury (high starch) or Waxy (medium/low starch) variety? There appears to be a cultural difference here, with the US preferring a floury variety such as Idaho to make a fluffier mash, and European tradition preferring waxier varieties such as Belle de Fontenay, Bintje, Charlotte or Desiree. Floury potato varieties have more irregular cells, waxy potato varieties have more regular and closely packed cells.

Hot or cold water to cook in: There is an old tradition of putting root vegetables in cold water and then raising the heat until boiling. Opinion is divided as to whether this is beneficial. On the one hand it ensures the food is more evenly cooked, and the slow heat rise may allow better gelatinisation of the starch granules before reaching temperatures that disrupt the cells. On the other hand some Swedish studies have shown more Vitamin C leaches out into the water because of the extended cooking times.

How much butter? To some extent this is a matter of taste. Authorities differ, for example for 2 lbs of potatoes Mrs Beeton advises 2oz, Escoffier 10% (3 oz), Blumenthal 33% (10oz) and Joel Robochon a massive 50% (16oz). Lady Clark of Tillypronie (1909) adds ¼ oz, and half a cup of cream. Personally I follow Escoffier and add 3oz/100g for 2lb/1Kg of potato.

How much cream or milk? It is hard to lay down a hard and fast rule about how much cream or milk to add. It depends on taste, the variety of potato, how much you dried out the puree, and on the desired texture. I find a tablespoonful more than enough. I prefer milk to cream, and add the fat and richness from the butter.

Hot or cold milk, butter? Most authorities agree that one should use cold butter and hot milk. Why? Is something more going on here? I believe there is. I think what is happening is that the emulsified form of the butter is acting as a sort of butter sauce, in which the separated potato cells now float. Butter emulsions are only stable if the butter is melted at a low temperature, and not heated over 190F. You are unlikely to get your mashed potatoes that hot, but beating the butter in at a temperature that just melts the butter seems like a good idea.

I am much less clear why hot milk or cream rather than cold is specified, since the amount added, compared to the mass of potato, would have no effect in terms of temperature. I suspect it is a holdover from the days when milk may have been of dubious health.

Milk first or butter first? Adding the milk after the butter is better, since it allows for easier control of texture.

How to puree? More choices. Most agree on the use of a potato ricer or, failing that, a mouli-legumes (food mill), since the pressing action damages the cells least. Personally I prefer an old fashioned potato masher, or even a fork, since I like the slight variations in texture. Escoffier advises and high-end establishments will laboriously rub the puree through a sieve, possibly twice to ensure smoothness. Don’t tell Jeffrey Steingarten, but once the starch has been fixed by the method here described, and if the cooked potato slices are allowed to cool to warm and then an electric whisk can be used with care without the puree turning gloopy and gluey. Don’t over process, however.

The Recipe

This is for two people.

Take a couple of spuds. These are Estima, a floury variety.

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Peel and cut into 1 cm/½ inch slices. The size is to allow the heat to reach the centre in the cooking time. Put into water at 71C/160F for 30 minutes.

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Cool to room temperature to allow the starch to retrograde. Putting the pan under a running cold tap is easiest.

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Note how the potato slices have become waxy and translucent.

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Cook them at a gentle simmer (80C/180F) for 30 minutes.

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Drain, and allow to dry and cool for a few minutes. Note how the slices have begun to break up.

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Mash. Here with a hand masher, or you can even use an electric whisk.

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Add salt, white pepper, cold (room temperature) butter and then correct thickness with a little milk.

Perfect Mash.

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Sausage and Mash with a Port and Onion confit and buttered cabbage for supper.

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Is it worth it? Why go to all this trouble for basic mash?

It depends in part on your attitude to food. You can always reach for the packet of instant mashed potato, and many chefs do. It can make a satisfactory product, but for perfection a little more effort is needed. Pre-cooking the potato has advantages for the professional kitchen and for the busy home cook in that the product can be reheated, and held cold or warm at both the pre-cooked and the finished stage, so much can be prepared beforehand.

Variations.

There are literally hundreds of variations. Each culture has its own, depending on the local ingredients and culinary traditions. Hungarians, for example, add sour cream and paprika and in Provence they add meat glaze. There are spicy versions from India. Here are a few.

• Flavoured mash: Blend in 10% of the desired flavouring. Examples include Horseradish, Grain Mustard, Tomato (use Ketchup), meat glaze, sour cream and paprika.

• Olive Oil Mash: Substitute EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) for the butter.

• English Mash: Substitute good beef dripping (with the jelly) for the butter. Sadly outlawed by the food police, but a fond memory.

• Root vegetable puree: Blend with 50% of the relevant vegetable puree, or cook the vegetable with the potato. Examples: Celeriac, Carrot, Parsnip, Turnip (called Punch Nep). Turnip and Parsnip together is good.

• Cheesy mash: Add a sharp grated cheese to the hot potato. Parmesan is good.

• Champ, or Stelk the quintessential Irish potato dish: With milk or buttermilk to drink, it sustained the Irish peasant until the potato crop was wiped out by the blight. Champ is mashed potato with greens, traditionally scallions/spring onions, but also made with chives, or peas or parsley, or even nettles.

For 2 lbs of potatoes blend in one of:

Scallion (spring onion) 1 bunch (6-8) chopped finely and blanched.

Chives: ¼ cup, chopped.

Peas: One cup, cooked until tender.

Parsley or other herbs: Quarter cup blanched and finely chopped.

Leek: Shred finely and sauté with a clove of garlic until soft.

• Colcannon: For 2 lbs of potatoes, mashed, mix in 1 lb of cabbage, shredded and cooked. Make a well in the centre and fill with 2oz/50g of melted butter. Some add spring onions or chives. Spinach can be substituted for cabbage.

• Bubble and Squeak: Leftover mash and cabbage, mixed together with a little onion and then fried. Best if fried in good beef dripping.

• Au Gratin: Sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs and brown under the grill.

• Pommes de Terre Biarritz: Add a dice of ham and herbs.

• Pommes de Terre Macaire: Make thin patties of mash, fry golden brown on both sides in good butter.

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• Pommes de Terre Byron: Pommes de terre Macaire, sprinkled with cream and grated cheese and browned under a grill.

• Pommes de Terre Robert: Add 3 egg yolks per lb and a large pinch of chopped chives. Make patties and brown on both sides in good butter.

• Mousseline: Mix with 1/3 rd volume of whipped cream.

• Croquette: Make into 2 oz/60g cork shapes, roll in egg and breadcrumbs, deep fry.

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• Amandine: Roll croquettes in flaked almonds. Here dressed with deep fried parsley.

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• Berny: As Amandine, but include truffles in the puree, and make into the shape of apricots.

• Chester, Cheddar, Gruyere, Parmesan, etc: Mix with the relevant cheese before making croquettes. Better than you might think.

• Royale: Add chopped ham, egg and breadcrumbs.

• Algerienne: Add 1/3rd chestnut puree. Originally sweet potato. Bind with egg yolk.

• Duchesse: A classic restaurant garnish, but much abused, and fallen into disrepute. If left to stand can get dry and nasty.

Beat in 1 egg yolk per lb (400g) of potato puree. Pipe onto a non-stick baking tray or silpat using a star tube. Brush with egg wash and brown in a hot oven. Brush with melted butter.

• Marquise: Duchesse coloured with tomato paste. Beat in 2oz/50g Tomato concasse per lb/400g of mash. A modern version is to make a duchesse nest and fill it with a tomato salsa.

• Rosette: Rose-shaped.

• Dauphine: Duchesse with choux paste and deep fried. Add 1/3rd of Choux paste to the potato puree, and form into 2oz/60g cylinders. Chill and deep fry.

• Elizabeth: Dauphine stuffed with creamed spinach.

• Chamonix: A version of Dauphine with cheese – add 50g of Parmesan per lb.

• Lorette: Chamonix, cigar shaped.

• Bussy: Lorette with chopped parsley and truffled.

• Brioche: Duchesse shaped as Brioche.

Many cultures have fried potato cakes or croquettes, often filled with tasty morsels, such as coxina, papa rellena, or bhajis.

• Potato Soufflee

This is a souffle de pommes de terre; see separate recipe under deep fry for Pommes de Terre Souffle

Butter 4 ramekins or 1 souffle dish and sprinkle with grated parmesan. For 1 pint/2lbs of mashed potato add the yolks of 3 eggs. Season well. Beat the 3 egg whites stiff. Mix some of the white into the potato to loosen it and then mix the potato gently into the egg white. Put into dishes, and bake as for an ordinary souffle at 400C for 20 minutes or until risen and browned. Many variations, such as adding ham or other flavours, are possible.

See also Pommes de terre a la Roxelane.

• Potato scones

Ingredients

25g/1oz butter

1 leek, finely chopped

175g/6oz plain flour

2tsp baking powder

50g/1¾oz butter

125g/4½oz mashed potato

50g/1¾oz fresh parmesan cheese, grated

2 Tbs fresh thyme, chopped

2 Tbs milk

1 egg yolk, beaten

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Finely chop a leek and sauté until soft in a knob (25g/1oz) of butter.

Put the flour, baking powder and remaining butter into a food processor and whiz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, or rub in by hand.

Add all the remaining ingredients except the egg, and combine well until a soft dough is formed.

Press or roll out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 1 cm/½in. Use a 2.5 cm/1 inch fluted cutter to cut out the scones.

Brush with a little beaten egg and then bake for 10-15 minutes in a hot oven until golden and risen.

Split and serve with the filling of choice. Shown here with marinated herring and crème fraiche.

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• Gnocchi

1 lb/500g mashed potato, well-seasoned

4oz/100g flour

1 egg

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Mix together into a dough. You can add grated parmesan, or spinach or herbs if you like.

Roll out into a sausage, and cut into about 1cm cubes.

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You can make any shape you like, but the traditional shape is a slightly curved oval, with one side grooved by the back of a fork. The ridges hold more sauce.

Put the shaped ones on to a lightly floured plate.

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Poach the gnocchi in about 1 inch/2cm of lightly salted boiling water with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. When they float they are cooked.

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Drain and dress. Here with butter, cinnamon and sage leaves, but any

pasta sauce is good, such as Pesto, or Tomato sauce. Sprinkle with

parmesan shavings.

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Baking and Casseroles

Basic technique: Plain Baked (Pommes au Four)

You may like your baked potato limp and soggy, but for me the ideal is a crisp skin (the best part) encasing a floury, nutty almost overcooked centre, the flesh beginning to form valleys and cracks to sop up the melting butter

To achieve this

- Pick the right floury (high starch)variety: Idaho russet, or King Edward.

- Score though the skin, or the potato might explode with the steam. Some prefer a slit on the side, others a cross on the top.

- Do NOT wrap in foil.

- Bake in a hot (425F/200C) oven for 90 minutes or so.

- Cut in half and mash the contents or press the sides to reveal the flesh.

Serve, with butter, pepper and salt.

Eat the lot. Extra butter is allowed for the skin.

Some people add all sorts of gloop to make more of a meal: cheese, sour cream and chives, sweetcorn, baked beans, chilli, curry etc, but a good baked potato really doesn’t need them.

Gadgets, like skewers or upturned spikes are sold where it is claimed the metal conducts the heat to the centre of the potato, thus reducing the cooking time. They may well work, but reducing the cooking time reduces the crispness of the skin.

Other people in a hurry might microwave the potato. Again, no delicious skin, and the cooking time is not significantly shorter.

Variants

• Alphonse: Slice, add Maitre D’hotel butter, sprinkle with grated cheese, brown.

• Bohemienne: Take a core out of the centre and fill with sausage meat.

• Stuffed (double baked):

A good supper dish. Bake some potatoes. Remove the flesh from the skin and mash with butter, cheese, crispy bacon bits, parsley. Stuff back unto the skins and bake until browned.

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Classical variants:

• Arlie: Mix with chives, season well, sprinkle with grated cheese, brown under grill.

• Menagere: Add dice of ham and onions, softened in butter.

• Surprise: Bake. Cut a small hole and remove the flesh, mash with butter and cream, and refill the skin though the original hole so that it looks as though nothing has changed. Some people should get out more!

• Pommes de terre a la Roxelane: Bake some potatoes, and use the flesh to prepare a potato soufflé (soufle de pommes de terre) mix as above. Put the mixture back into the skins and bake as a soufflé.

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• Dauphinoise:

The classic potato gratin, rich, unctuous and welcoming. A great party dish. Also good for banquets as it is easy to portion.

Much debate as to whether to include cheese and eggs, and how much garlic. Escoffier adds to 2 lbs of floury potatoes 1 egg, 1 ½ pts milk and 4oz Gruyere and he rubs the dish with garlic.

Pomaine omits the egg and cheese, but includes 4 cloves of garlic.

Classically the potato slices, washed of their starch, are carefully layered with the grated cheese into a gratin dish, and the milk or cream, and egg poured over, and baked for 40 minutes.

My version is not traditional, but easy and quick to prepare. I like to include onions, and flavour with a bay leaf and thyme. The starch from the potato thickens the milk, so don’t wash the potato after slicing.

Quick Potato Gratin a la Dauphinoise

2 lbs waxy potatoes (you can use a floury variety, but they will break up more)

1 large onion peeled and sliced thinly

2 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs thyme (or ½ tsp dried thyme)

½ tsp salt, lots of pepper

1 ½ pts milk, or cream if you want it very rich.

2 oz butter

Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Use a mandoline (mind your fingers!), or the slicing disc on a food processor, or good knife skills. If you are unshaven and knit your own you can leave the peel on the potato, but scrub them well. Put everything in a large pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

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Remove the bay leaf and the thyme sprig, check the seasoning. Tip into a gratin dish so that it is a layer about 5 cm/2 inches thick. Smooth the top a bit, dot with butter.

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Put into a hot oven for 15 minutes or until the top is brown and bubbling, the potatoes soft, and the liquid adsorbed. Let cool a bit before serving.

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Lots of variations and addition. Dauphinoise with some added protein component, and perhaps a plain salad makes a great bistro dish or a supper when friends drop round unexpectedly. Add one or some of:

• Anchovies (this is called Janzon’s Frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation), after Adolf Jansson, a 19th century Norwegian fisherman turned opera singer)

• Bacon Bits

• Leeks (shredded). This dish was known as Gratin a la Normande.

• Mushrooms, especially morels or shiitake or wild mushrooms, with a little truffle oil.

• Cheese

• Cubes of chicken breast.

• Tofu

• Salmon

• Smoked fish, such as smoked haddock or smoked salmon.

• Sliced salami

• Diced Ham

• Confit of duck (off the bone).

• Savoyarde or Chambery: Like dauphinoise but replace the milk with stock.

• Boulangere: Sliced potatoes cooked round a joint/roast with onions and moistened with the meat juices.

Pommes Anna and variants are under shallow frying, to which they are more akin.

Deep-Frying

Chips (UK) or French Fries(US)

Basic technique

The issue with chips is how to get the inside cooked and the outside crisp but not burnt. Worse, the steam from the fluffy inside will make the outside go soft. The normal solution is to par-cook the chips and then finish frying to brown and crisp the outside. Heston Blumenthal adds drying stages. After much experimentation, he finds the best way to dry them is to put the chips on a cake rack in the fridge for some hours. One problem with this is that the cold can increase the sugar content of the potato, which means they tend to colour before crisping. I would therefore not refrigerate before par-cooking, but just leave them at room temperature until dry. For finish frying it doesn’t matter, since the finish is just browning anyway.

The recipe

1. Cut the chips

2, Wash off the surface starch

3. Cook in salted water until nearly soft

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4. Drain, and dry

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5. Cook without colouring in oil at 130C/275F

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6. Drain and dry

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7 Finish frying at 190C/375F

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8. Salt and enjoy!

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I like my chips quite well done – dark mahogany colour. Most chip shops cook their chips much too light.

Salt while hot – it helps the salt to stick better. The type of salt doesn’t matter much, but a fairly coarse but not crystalline salt will give the saltiest taste

Since the browning is caused by the Maillard reaction, which occurs in alkaline conditions, I have recently, with some success, tried dipping the chips in a weak solution (1tsp to a pint of warm water) of baking soda, before drying and frying.

Choice of variety is important – use a floury potato like Burbank Russet (Idaho) or King Edwards. Ideally do not keep them in the fridge, as the cold can increase the sugar content and make them brown too easily. Keep all potatoes in a cool dark frost-free place. Frost damages them, and light makes them go green.

Choice of cooking medium: Since the finished chips will include some of the cooking medium the choice of medium is important.

Firstly it must be capable of getting hot enough. Not all fat or oils can – they start to decompose and smoke. You need an oil whose smoke point is well above the 190C/375F cooking temperature.

Secondly it must taste good.

Thirdly it must not foam too much.

Beef dripping is regarded by all except the health lobby (or some with specific beliefs such as vegans), as the finest medium.

Otherwise use a high temperature oil such as canola (rapeseed).

New oil doesn’t work as well as middle aged oil, so often some old oil is mixed with the new.

Keep the cooking medium scrupulously clean, and filter it often.

Size: Personally I like the mix of sizes that hand-cutting gives, but some prefer larger sizes, with less oil adsorption, and others prefer them finer, with more crunch. A little peel left on helps the flavour, but large amounts of peel are only for health- food people. Wedges with skin on are horrid – overcooked in the thin part and undercooked in the fat part.

Fried salmon goujons in batter, tomato salsa, mushy peas, and chips made from blue potatoes

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Classical variations and special shapes:

• Bataille: Large dice – ¾inch cubes

• Benedictine: Spirals

• Collerette: Slices of grooved cylinders

• Copeaux: Ribbons

• En Liard: Slices

• Gaufrettes or LouLou: Waffle shaped: Cut on a grooved blade in a mandoline, rotating by 90 degrees each cut.

Size matters

In decreasing order of size

• Chips

• Pont-Neuf Rectangular in cross section 1.5 cm/¾ inch by 1 cm/½ inch

• Frites (1 cm/½ inch) square in cross section

• Paille (straws) Large Julienne or game chips

• Juliennne: Small Julienne

• Allumetes: matchsticks

• Cheveau: hair thin

• Nid (nests) Julienne potatoes deep fried in a special mould, and then filled with various things, including more fried potatoes. Now fortunately almost unknown.

For more deep frying see Croquettes, and also Pommes Dauphine in the puree section.

Chip butties

Hot Chip sandwich. Nothing better at the end of a good evening.

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Thick sliced white bread; thick salted butter; Heinz Tomato ketchup; Hot chips.

Press together. Eat over the sink, with the wonderful goo from the melted butter and the ketchup running down your arms.

• Skins, wedges, and other inventions

Skins were originally the skin left after the pulp had been extracted from baked potatoes, deep fried and served with dipping sauces, or smothered with melted cheese. Nowadays they are cut thicker, and fried like chips.

• Pommes Souffle:

Pommes souffle are remarkable, and worth the little extra trouble. There is the usual discovered-by-accident story. Take 1/8th inch/3mm rounds of floury potato, and par-cook in oil, like chips. When you finish frying they soufflé, or puff.

Variants:

• Chatoullaird: Ribbon shaped

Crisps (called Chips in the US)

The fried snack-food industry is a major business. Potato crisps and snack foods sell at margins of some 25 times the cost of the raw materials. A typical formulation will start with reconstituted dried potato, possibly with additional starch, such as tapioca (cassava) to modify the ratio of amylose to amylpectin to give the desired texture, extruded to shape, dried and fried. With some starches there is considerable expansion on cooking.

• Fried

Thin slices of potato, well washed to remove surface starch and then deep fried at lowish temperature (165C/325F) until golden and then salted or dressed with all manner of natural or artificial flavourings. Black pepper or Worcester sauces are good flavourings for the home cook. Look here for an interesting eGullet thread on fried crisps.

• Oven Crisps

Slice as thin as possible, wash well to remove surface starch, dry and place in a plastic bag.

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Add 2tsp melted butter, cooled down, and shake well to coat all the slices with a film of butter.

Place on a baking tray (use a silpat if you have one).

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Bake at 275F for 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

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Shallow Frying (sauté)

General notes

Temperature

When frying there are several processes happening:

a) Dehydration and drying by evaporating the water

b) Maillard reaction browning

c) Melting and caramelisation of the sugars

d) Cooking the starch.

The secret of crispness is to cook cooler and slower, rather than hotter and faster. The ideal (for most potato varieties) is around 190C/375F to allow heat transfer to interior of the food and to give the drying and cooking processes time before the outside gets too dark and burnt. If you cook at too high a temperature the surface will locally char, and the food stick to the pan. Cooking at lower temperatures takes longer but gives a better result.

Some potatoes with high sugar content, perhaps as a result of being stored for a long time at low temperatures, may need even lower heat.

Choice of cooking medium.

Some of the cooking medium will be adsorbed by the food and add flavour and mouth texture. The cooking medium should have a high smoke point so that it does not break down in use.

Goose fat is wonderful and the best cooking medium for potatoes if available Worth cooking your goose just for the delicious fat to fry potatoes in. Duck and chicken fat (schmaltz) are also good. Beef dripping is excellent, but derogated by the health police and some people’s beliefs.

The usual choice is a high-temperature neutral oil, such as canola (rapeseed) oil or peanut oil.

Clarified butter or ghee are good, but need to be used at lower temperatures. The milk solids in butter on its own can brown too quickly; butter and oil is often mixed together to get the butter flavour but with a higher smoke point.

EVOO can be used, but it is better on a salad, and it has a comparatively low smoke point.

Oil can be omitted altogether and frying can take place in a non-stick pan. However, the flavour and feel of the food will be different. The oil also acts as a heat transfer medium, so the food will tend to overcook where it is contact with the pan, and undercook where it is not.

Get the pan and cooking medium hot first.

The food adsorbs less oil and the surface dries better so that the food has less tendency to stick. When you put the food in the pan it will tend to stick at first, and then as the drying/browning proceeds, free itself. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to move it about.

Recipes

•Latkes

Latkes are traditionally eaten during the Jewish festival of Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, while the candles of the Menorah burn.

In some traditions the Latkes are prepared by the men of the household, as Hanukah is a half-holiday for the housewife. The festival is in remembrance of the Maccabee rebellion, and the miracle that occurred there when the only un-polluted flask of holy oil, only enough for one day, lasted for seven days to light the holy light in the Temple.

Latkes are eaten because they are cooked in oil and so a reminder of the miracle. Other traditional Hannukah oil-cooked foods are soufganiyot (jam filled doughnuts) or in the Sephardi tradition Bimuelos or Zalabia, oil-fried fritters in syrup. Of course, potatoes were not available in Jerusalem in biblical times despite the tradition that they were cooked to feed the Maccabean troops.

Latkes may be a derivative of the German Kartoffelpuffer, also eaten with apple sauce. During Hannukah, also called the Festival of Lights, the dreidel (spinning top) is spun and traditionally a gambling game is played betting on the result. Like eating Latkes, this is similar to a German Christmas Eve tradition, and to the Indian tradition of playing gambling games during the Indian Festival of Lights, Diwali.

There are many different versions. Here is mine.

These disappear fast, and you will need to cook more than you expect.

The most I have known anyone eat are 17 at one sitting, but we were younger and thinner then.

1lb floury potatoes (about 2 good size baking potatoes), peeled. This is sufficient for 4 latkes, normally enough for 2 people.

1 onion

Plenty of salt and pepper.

Peel and grate the potatoes and the onion coarsely. A food processor with a grating blade is easiest.

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Put into a cloth and squeeze out the excess moisture. Add plenty (½tsp) of salt and pepper and mix well.

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Heat about 1 cm/½ inch deep oil or fat in a frying pan and put in large tablespoons of the mixture, squashing down a bit to form a thinnish tablespoon-sized patty.

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Let cook until golden brown, then turn over.

When both sides are cooked remove and drain on adsorbent paper. Keep warm in an oven. They can be reheated in a microwave. Add more fat to the pan between batches – they adsorb a lot of oil.

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Note that there is no additional egg or flour. Some add these, but they are mistaken. I do not understand why people add the extra moisture in the egg, and then have to add flour or matzo meal to sop it up, which I think makes the texture insipid. For reference, the traditional version adds one or two beaten eggs, ¼ cup of flour or matzo meal, and a teaspoon of baking powder.

You can, but I don’t know why you would since the original version is so good, add sweet potato, cabbage, grated carrot, cheese or other vegetables to the mixture. I would not call these Latkes.

You can leave the peel on the potatoes if you need the fibre. You can bake the mixture on a silpat or non-stick paper, but they are not the same.

The raw potato mixture will discolour if left standing. If you have to hold it for a while add Vitamin C or lemon juice.

Potato Kugel: For a tasty Potato Kugel, pack the grated potato and onion, mixed with 3 Tbs oil, butter or schmaltz, into a layer about 2 cm/1 inch thick and bake in a hot oven until brown. As with Latkes, some people add eggs and flour or matzo meal while others add chicken stock or other vegetables, or, for dairy meals, cheese.

Chateau potatoes:

New potatoes don’t roast well. These are a good alternative.

Classically these are made with potatoes turned to seven sided ovals about the size and shape of a large olive.

1lb small new or fingerling potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

1 oz/25g butter

Put the potatoes in a single layer in a heavy pan with a lid. Add the butter. Cover.

Cook on a low heat for about an hour, shaking occasionally.

When cooked season with salt, and optionally chopped parsley.

Dropping the potatoes, whether dusted with flour or not, in the deep fryer instead of cooking them slowly in butter, is a restaurant and catering practice to be discouraged.

Variations

• Alsacienne: With bacon pieces and small onions or shallots

• Bordelaise: Parmentier (see below) with chopped garlic. Add late to prevent burning.

• Cocotte: Smaller version of Chateau

• Bonne-femme: Cocotte with braised onions

• Fondantes: When browned, drain off the butter and add a glass of stock (Escoffier suggests fresh butter instead) and cook gently until the stock is adsorbed (one way to reheat)

• Champignol: Fondants, sprinkle with grated cheese and glaze under a grill (make fondantes for the mise, glaze for service)

• Cretan; Fondantes with thyme

• Gastronome: Add chopped truffles (or truffle oil)

• Mongolian: Cocotte with half Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)

• Noisette: Cut small (½ inch/1 cm) balls of potatoes with a melon cutter. Brown well.

• Parisienne: Larger balls, rolled in meat glaze when cooked.

• Parmentier: Cut in 1 cm/½ inch cubes, Antoine Augustine • PARMENTIER did much to popularise the potato in France in the 18th century. It was during the Seven Years War, 1756-1763, that Parmentier, who was in the French Army in Hanover, first met the potato. He had become, for the fifth time, a prisoner of war in the hands of the Prussians, and having only potatoes to live on, he appreciated to the full their value as a food. Indeed, without them, he tells us, he could scarce have survived. It was his war experiences, which inspired him to work for the reintroduction of the potato into France. In 1789, the same year as the fall of the Bastille marked the beginning of the French revolution, he published a treatise “Traité sur la culture et les usages des pommes de terre, de la patate, et du topinambour” (Treatise on the growing and use of potatoes, sweet potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes), which was in all good republican bookshops, and the growing of potatoes helped the people avoid starvation in those difficult days. By year III of the Republic (1795), the Tuileries Gardens were being turned into potato fields. He also published a treatise on using potato flour in bread.

Dishes called Parmentier always involve potatoes.

• Mirette: Small dice, cook like Champignol, but add meat glaze and truffle.

• Plain

Cut boiled potatoes into thick (¼ inch 5mm) slices or into chunks.

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Saute until golden brown. Season.

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Variations

• Allemande: in butter

• Brune: Deep brown and crisp

• Colombine: with julienne of peppers

• Lyonnaise: with onions

• O’Brian: Brune with diced peppers

• Ortiz: As O’Brian, but cook from raw

• Provencale: With garlic

• Home fries: Cubes of potato, like Parmentier. Onions, diced peppers, leeks, etc optional. They differ from Parmentier or Lyonnaise in shape and geography

• Sablees: Cut in dice, when nearly done add breadcrumbs to brown for that extra crunch.

Rosti

2 lbs/1.5 Kg potatoes. Peeled

4oz/50g butter.

Put the potatoes in cold water and bring to the boil. When they boil turn off the heat and let get cold. Ideally do this the day before.

Grate the potatoes. Melt the butter and mix into the potatoes. Season.

Put the potatoes in a pan in one large cake about 1 cm/½ inch thick. Cook slowly and allow to brown on one side before turning. You might find them easiest to turn by inverting the plan onto a plate. Invert the rosti by putting another plate over the first and turning upside down. Finally put the rosti back in the pan by putting the pan over the second plate and inverting.

Let the second side brown.

Serve, cutting wedges.

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You can also cook these in the oven on a baking sheet.

Variants

• Add grated cheese (preferably Gruyere) to the cooked side when you have turned then over and let melt

You can include various chopped or grated vegetables (onion, carrot, peppers etc) with the potato.

• Galettes: Take the grated and buttered potato as above, and scatter a thin layer on a non-stick baking sheet in a hot pan. Alternatively, press a thin layer into a circular cookie-cutter or egg ring on a non-stick baking sheet and remove the mold. Cook until brown on both sides.

Used as a carrier for many savoury towers of restaurant-style food presentations.

The Great Hash Brown Controversy.

There seem to be two schools of thought about which is the best way to cook hash browns. I favour the second (grated).

•Cubed

Cut the par-cooked potatoes into cubes, as for Parmentier or Home fries. In a puddle of oil on the griddle or in a pan, brown the cubes on all sides, and then with a spatula squash them into a patty, and brown the resulting patty on both sides.

•Grated

Like small versions of Rosti above, similar to Latkes without the onion and from par-cooked potatoes. The advantage of par-cooking is that the potato shreds will stand without discolouring, and the cakes cook more quickly.

Par-cook and grate the potatoes, as in Rosti above. They will hold for service at this point. Season well.

Pour a pool of oil on the griddle or in a large frying pan over medium heat, and put a large tablespoonful of the grated potato in it, squashing down a bit. Let it brown on one side, then flip it, and brown on the other. Medium heat and longer cooking is the key to crispness.

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As "Waffle House" notes they can be:

Scattered: Spread the potato out more thinly so they crisp more.

Smothered: with sliced onion, sauteed.

Covered: with grated cheese when you turn them.

Chunked with diced ham.

Topped with chilli.

Diced with tomato dice.

Peppered with chopped peppers.

You can also include sliced onions, grated carrots, sweet potatoes, sliced cabbage, grated sunchokes and all manner of things with the potato.

Pair with eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread or pancakes, or sausage for breakfast

Dropping the potato mix, frozen into cakes, into the deep fat fryer is not the same.

•Anna and her sisters

Anna are rounds of potato covered in butter, arranged in a circle on a buttered parchment or silpat and then baked at 250F/120C until crisp. Some, for garnishing, have only a layer or two, others are a full cake of 5 layers or more, and these remain soft in the centre.

To make the rounds cut a cylinder out of a potato with about a 2.5cm/1 inch cookie cutter, and slice into 1/16th/1mm slices. Wash well to remove the surface starch.

Pommes Anna are also called Pommes Maxim, expecially when there are only one or two layers, as here

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Variations:

• Mireille is Anna mixed with artichoke bottoms and truffled

• Voisin or Ambassadeur is Anna with cheese between the layers

• Darphin is Anna but with julienne not rounds, similar to a galette.

• Nana is Darphin cooked in a dariole mould

• Jetee-Promenade is Darphin with julienne of artichokes (sunchokes) and truffles mixed with the potato

• Ideale is Darphin, truffled (dress with truffle oil if you can’t afford the real thing)

Roast

Basic technique

• My version:

Choose floury potatoes.

Peel and cut into even, but largish chunks. Classically they should be turned.

Par-boil for ten minutes.

Drain in a sieve, and roll them around so the edges fray a bit – those rough bits will crisp deliciously.

Season with salt and pepper.

Heat clarified butter (or good dripping) in a roasting tin. Add a peeled onion cut in half.

Add the spuds. Roll in the fat.

• Hasselback potatoes are sliced nearly all the way through to increase the area available to crisp. This is frequently done by running a skewer through the potato to prevent cutting right through it. They are on the right in the pan.

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Cook for an hour in a hot oven, turning occasionally. Season and serve.

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Although it is traditional to roast potatoes around the joint, I find that they cook better if cooked in a separate pan.

Here are two eGullet threads on roast potatoes:

The Great Roast Potato cook-off (Goose fat vs Olive Oil etc)

Heston Blumenthal on Roast Potatoes.

• Potatoes and Rice

One dish I remember from student days was roasted rice and potato. It was made by a fellow student who said it was a family dish. She put in a roasting tin some potatoes, oil, salt, a cup of rice, and two cups of stock (OK, stock cube), then put it in a hot oven for an hour or so beneath a chicken we were roasting.

It was delicious and filling.

There are many other dishes where potatoes form a major part, including

Tortilla

Irish Stew/Lancashire hotpot

Aloo Bhaji

Various recipes for potatoes in pastry: Potato pie, pasties, pierogies, knishes, Samosa, etc.

Potato bread

Fishcakes, rissoles, crab cakes....

Chowder

Vichyssoise

Shepherds' pie/cottage pie

Corned beef hash/Lobscouse

We will cover these in a future unit.

And finally, from the Still-Room Book of Madam Susanna Avery, 1688

• Potato Pudding

Half pound Potatoes, Qtr pound butter melted to oil, a Quarter (lb)of

powdered Sugar, five eggs, half an ounce of Jordan Almonds blanched, half a

nutmeg (grated); the potatoes to be boiled and peeled; and then together

with ye almonds pounded in a mortar; the eggs to be well beat up: and when

all ye ingredients are well tempered together to be boiled in a bason for an

hour; you may add to the above a small glass of sack or mountain (e.g.

Malaga, Sweet Sherry or Madeira) with a little orange flower or rose water;

the sauce to be melted butter, sack and sugar.

Further reading:

Escoffier : The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery

by H. L. Cracknell (Author), R. J. Kaufmann (Author) ISBN: 0471290165

Le Repertoire De La Cuisine by Louis Saulnier ISBN: 0812051084

In Praise of the Potato: Recipes from Around the World

by Lindsey Bareham ISBN: 0879514973

Post your questions here --> Q&A

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