Potatoes are the enablers of the food world. By themselves, they aren’t that exciting. But introduce them to wild, provocative flavors and they bring out the best in those flavors, making them seem flashier, more interesting, and more delicious.
And they are versatile enough that they can be prepared using just about any cooking method – boiling, baking, frying, even microwaving – and still be successful.
Potatoes are one of the healthiest and the least expensive foods in the produce section.
Just remember, many of the vitamins and nutrients in potatoes are contained in the skin. Peel a potato and throw away the skin and you are throwing away a lot its nutritional value.
Most of the potatoes consumed in the United States are grown in Idaho and Oregon, but they can be grown cheaply and efficiently just about anywhere. They originally were brought to the US by the Irish in the early 18th Century and have played a starring role
on American dinner tables ever since.
Potatoes have played an important role in history, having been responsible for the death of more than a million Irish — and the emigration, mostly to the US, of 1.5 million more — during the Great Potato Famine of 1845-49.
They have even been used as a weapon of war, with the Germans accusing the English of sabotaging their potato crops with the Colorado potato beetles during World War II. The Soviets made the same claim against the US during the Cold War.
The amount of starch a potato contains determines whether it will be mealy or waxy. Mealy potatoes, such as russets (aka Idaho) are better for baking or for making French fries. Waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold , hold their shape better and are best boiled and used for salads or scalloped potatoes. Potatoes that have qualities of both, such as
red potatoes, are best roasted.
A note on baked potatoes: I’m not sure where the tradition started of wrapping baked potatoes in foil, but cut it out! The foil causes the potato to steam itself, making the skin too soft and the center too dense. Also, there’s no need to poke them with a fork prior
to cooking to vent them.
Instead, rub a baker with EVOO, sprinkle with coarse Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and cook it naked on a baking sheet. The potato is naked, not you. Unless that’s what you’re into.
Mashed potatoes are perhaps the most popular way to serve them. To preserve nutritional value, I recommend leaving the skins on. But if you insist on having creamy white mashed potatoes, just throw them into cool water immediately after peeling to prevent them from oxidizing, which causes them to turn brown.
Here’s a recipe for perfect-every-time mashed potatoes:
3-5 lb Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1-1/2 cups milk or any dairy (half and half, heavy cream or a combination of all)
2 TBS whole butter
Salt and white pepper
Pinch of ground or grated nutmeg
Boil potatoes until soft, about 35 minutes. Use a potato masher, hand mixer, food ricer, or just a fork to smash to a smooth consistency. Stir in dairy and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle ground or grate fresh nutmeg over top to garnish just before serving.
For richer mashed potatoes with a slight tang, add a 1/2 cup sour cream with the dairy.
Another favorite or ours that goes well with a lot of different proteins is Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes. Red potatoes are cheap, they store well and you usually can buy them by the pound, so we have this at least once every couple of weeks.
Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes
2-3 lb Red Potatoes
2 TBS EVOO
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 TBS dried rosemary (or Italian seasoning)
1 tsp Spanish paprika
1 tsp onion powder
2 TBS grated parmesan
Cut potatoes into halves or quarters, depending on size. Try to keep pieces all the same size so they cook evenly. Combine in a mixing bowl with all the other ingredients except the parmesan and toss until evenly coated. Lay out onto one or two sheet pans, making sure to keep a little space between potatoes. Cook at 375F for about 35 minutes. Sprinkle with parmesan and return to oven for another 10 minutes.
To be honest, I usually eyeball the seasonings.