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Kate Heyhoe

Kate's Global Kitchen

 

One Potato...
and Many Potatoes More

by Kate Heyhoe

 

More than a thousand cookbooks line my shelves, but on a daily basis, I really consult only about a dozen of them, mainly just to seek out classic recipes or general advice on cooking a particular food. Now, my favorites shelf has grown to include a "baker's dozen"—adding as a thirteenth cookbook the recently released One Potato, Two Potato: 300 Recipes from Simple to Elegant—Appetizers, Main Dishes, Side Dishes and More.

One Potato Whether you yearn for potatoes cooked in 4-star restaurant style, or for the homey tastes prepared by mom or grandma, this comprehensive and inspiring book offers both. Written by cookbook editor Roy Finamore with Molly Stevens, the book contains practical advice on the wide world of potato varieties as well as tempting recipes that range from the veteran classics to innovative new ideas.

I particularly value One Potato, Two Potato after toting home a five or ten pound sack of potatoes, whether they be red skinned, Yukon Golds, or plain old russets. "Now that I have them, how will I cook these gems?" asks the cook in my head. This book invariably gives me well-honed, satisfying answers.

Potatoes being one of the world's most versatile foods, a masterful potato dish can arise from the mere addition of heat and butter or oil. But just about any ingredient "on hand" can marry potatoes to form a blissful union. In the chapter on gratins, I found a simple and most flavorful variation for Potatoes in Beer. The end result is nutty, golden brown and slightly sweet, and it helped me clear out that lone bottle of lager that had been lurking in the back of the fridge ready for a noble purpose.

The following tips and recipes from One Potato, Two Potato exemplify the variety of the more than 300 dishes covered and the essential information every potato-phile will want to know.

 

Potato Principles

Adapted from One Potato, Two Potato

Choosing and Storing Potatoes: Look for those with smooth, unbroken skin and avoid the ones tinged with green and the ones that have begun sprouting. Keep potatoes in a dark, cool place—in a deep drawer, in a basket inside a cabinet, or even in a brown paper bag. Choose high-starch potatoes, like russets, or Idahos, which have a delicate, dry texture, for baking, mashing, deep-frying, and casseroles. Choose low-starch varieties, which are often called waxy or boiling potatoes, for salads, hash browns, and other dishes in which you want them to hold their shape.

Potatoes

Testing for Starchiness: To determine how starchy a potato is, cut a raw one in half with a large chef s knife: if the potato leaves a lot of white residue on the blade and if it seems to cling to the knife, it's starchy. If the potato leaves little residue on the blade and falls away from the knife without clinging, it's probably likely waxy.

Choosing Potatoes for Soup: For chowders and chunky soups, the best potatoes are waxy low-starch varieties such as Superior, Kennebec, Red Bliss, and other white and red-skinned potatoes. The firm texture holds up even after a long simmer. For rustic soups that rely solely on the starch from potatoes to thicken them, the best are high-starch russets or medium-starch Yukon Golds.

Baking Potatoes: The classic baked potato is a long russet (the name comes from its thick brown skin). Scrub the potatoes and dry them well. Put them directly on the oven rack and bake them at 350 or 400 degrees until tender. Halfway through, prick them with a fork to let the steam escape. What shouldn't you do? Don't wrap them in foil, don't rub the skins with oil or prick them until they're cooked halfway, don't crowd the potatoes or put them on a baking sheet, and never bake a potato in a microwave.

Making Twice-Baked Potatoes: Select russets of equal size. After baking, slice off the top lengthwise and make two servings from each potato. While the potatoes are still warm, scoop out the flesh, using a tablespoon and leaving enough to keep the jacket from collapsing. Mash the flesh with a hand masher, ricer, or fork. We generally add warm milk or cream, a bit of softened butter, and maybe some sour cream, yogurt, or cheese. You want a consistency that is just a bit stiffer than most mashed potatoes. Then add whatever you like—perhaps bacon, smoked fish, mushrooms, caramelized onions, or herbs and spices. Spoon the filling into the potato skins and mound it up with butter and cheese. Bake in a moderate oven until heated through.

Mashing Potatoes: For smooth, lump-free mashed potatoes, put the cooked potatoes through a ricer and then use a wooden spoon to beat them. Cook the potatoes in plenty of water with a good pinch of salt until they are truly tender. The water shouldn't boll furiously, just steadily. When the potatoes are done, drain them well and return them to the pot immediately, without giving them time to cool. If you use a ricer, dump the potatoes into a bowl and rice them into the pot. (Watch out if you use a food mill, because this tool tends to make mashed potatoes that are gluey. Hand-held mixers are fine, but they make more of a whipped potato than a mashed one.) Shake the pan and stir the potatoes with a wooden spoon; don't let them stick. Then add whatever ingredients you have chosen: butter (which should be soft and still holding its shape); sour cream, cream cheese, or goat cheese (at room temperature); and hot milk, cream, or potato water. Add the liquids in small additions. Stir with your wooden spoon until the liquid has been absorbed.

Mashing Sweet Potatoes: Mashed sweets are more forgiving than mashed potatoes because they don't have lots of starch that will turn to glue if overworked or abused. You can mash boiled, steamed, or baked sweet potatoes; the easiest is to use boiled ones, but the best is baked. Conveniently, you don't have to mash sweets while they're still hot. 

Achieving Perfect Fries: If you want to make French fries right, give the potatoes a long soak in cold water, double frying, and a cooling rest in the refrigerator after the first cooking. Get out a big pot for frying. You'll need at least 3 inches of oil in the pot, and those 3 inches shouldn't fill it more than half full. Potatoes have an unfortunate tendency to invite oil to bubble up and boil over. Stir the fries as they cook. Russets are our choice for fries that are dry and fluffy inside a crisp crust. Here are five steps to the best fries:

1. Soak the potatoes in plenty of cold water for 2 to 3 hours.
2. Dry the potatoes thoroughly, completely, meticulously.
3. Prefry the fries in oil heated to 310 to 325 degrees to cook but not brown them.
4. Drain the fries on paper towels, then put them in a single layer on trays and put the trays in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
5. Fry the potatoes at 375 degrees until crisp and brown.

Roasting Potatoes: The best potatoes for roasting are waxy and all-purpose types like red, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, and California white. Many of these have thin skins and don't need to be peeled, just scrubbed with a vegetable brush and dried thoroughly. When we sneak potatoes alongside a roast for the last 30 to 40 minutes, we parboil them first (cover with cold water, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes). Choose a heavy pan and toss the potatoes in a little fat (olive oil or butter) to encourage browning. The fat will help seasonings adhere to the surface of the potatoes. Roast potatoes in a moderately hot oven, about 350 to 400 degrees. Check for doneness by piercing a few potatoes with a skewer or needle; it should sink in easily and the outsides should be nicely browned and crisp in places.

Making Exceptional Sautéed Potatoes: To get nicely browned slices or cubes of potatoes, you'll want a waxy or medium-starch potato. They have a firmer texture. Cover the sauté pan at first sign of browning. This slows the cooking process and allows the potatoes to steam slightly so they cook through. When they are just about tender, remove the lid, increase the heat, and cook, shaking and flipping until they are crisp and brown. A surefire way to make great ones is to start with cold boiled potatoes.

Massage Your Potato: For a fluffy baked potato, try this. As you take the potato out of the oven, hold it in a folded towel or two clean potholders and massage it. Roll it firmly but gently between your hands, just like giving a good massage, to break up the flesh without cracking the skin. Then place the potato on the plate, cut a cross in the skin, and pinch, pushing the flesh up and out.

Visit All About Potatoes featuring dozens of potato recipes

 

One Potato, Two Potato

 

Kate's Global Kitchen for January 2002:
01/04/02     Food Forward: Predictions and Observations for 2002
01/11/02     A Cozy Night with Larousse: Good Reading, Fine Eating
01/18/02     Paella in a Pot
01/25/02     One Potato—and Many Potatoes More

 

Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.



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