Many, many years ago a psychic told me that I had been a potato farmer in what was then Yugoslavia in a past life. Aha! At last an answer to why I loved potatoes!
Mashed and baked were all I knew about potatoes until I started to learn my way around the kitchen – and the produce aisle in my market. I discovered that potatoes are a curious lot. They come in all sizes and shapes, colors and consistencies. They’re a staple in our diet, and yet, making anything beyond mashed or baked potatoes seemed to defy the ability of many cooks, including moi.
After living in the United Kingdom for a few years, I learned the difference between waxy and floury potatoes and what to use for what preparation. I discovered how to make fondant potatoes, how to layer and lace them with butter for potatoes Anna, and how to add cream and thinly sliced onions for scrummy scalloped potatoes.
But now for a potato primer:
Low Starch Red and Yellow Potatoes:
The colorful potatoes such as red and yellow (Yukon Golds) are waxy, or low-starch potatoes. They won’t fall apart easily and are best used in dishes that require a long cooking time. Reds are wonderful when making potato salad, and yellows hold up well in potatoes Anna or in a casserole of scalloped potatoes.
Idahos, or Russet potatoes are those big, oblong potatoes that are a staple in many pantries. Great for baking, their starchy consistency makes them fall apart in potato salads, but are dreamy when baked, fried or mashed.
Not too Big, Not too Small: The White Potato
With a thin skin and a medium size, whites take the middle of the road in that they’re not too starchy, not too waxy, not too big, or not too small. They do spoil quickly, so if you want to roast or use in a cheese casserole, use them soon after you buy.
Named after their shape, these “finger” sized potatoes dress up a dinner plate and promote conversation. Most diners have seen them in their produce departments, but have shied away from serving these elegant little nuggets. Best roasted in a bit of oil and dressed with salt, they’re simple to prepare and as tasty as they are fancy.
Sitting proudly in the potato aisle at your market are the blue or purple potatoes. Not only are the skins a deep color, the interiors are the same color as the skins. Waxy, they dress up a traditional potato salad and add zing when fried with green onions and yellow peppers. Ole!
Now, buy yourself a few russets, keeping in mind that they should be of similar size and shape, and try your hand at Fondant Potatoes. You’ll be impressed!
Potato heaven – that’s what I call fondant potatoes, those little cones of fluffy potato inside and crunchy crusts all around the outsides. They’re a lovely twist to the normal mashed or baked potato, and come out of the oven swimming in flavor.
Mise en Place:
What You’ll Need:
2 medium russet potatoes
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
125 milliliters chicken stock
Utensils and Tools:
Small cast-iron or enamel skillet that’s oven-proof
PREHEAT OVEN TO 425F
Peel potatoes into a cylinder, blunting both ends so they stand up. Cut each cylinder in two, across the center. Wipe each piece with a paper towel to remove as much potato starch as possible.
Vegetable Oil. Potatoes
Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet until the oil shimmers and waves. Put the potatoes into the oil, flat-bottom side down. Fry until the bottoms are crispy brown, about 5 minutes. Move around in the skillet if the heat is uneven.
Salt and Pepper
Remove potatoes from skillet, put them on paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Do this quickly and do not remove the skillet from the stove. Turn down the heat if necessary.
Add to skillet. Return potatoes to skillet, browned side up, and spoon the melted butter over them.
Cook until butter bubbles subside.
Slowly add stock to skillet. It will splash and splatter, so stand away as you do this.
Put skillet with potatoes into pre-heated oven and cook until potatoes are tender inside, about 30 minutes. Test after 20 minutes with a bamboo stick. You don’t want them overdone.
Remove from oven and spoon the thyme-butter over tops and serve.