by Chef Michael Hutchings
The potato has a long history as an important food source for humankind and was first cultivated over 4,000 ago in the mountains of South America. In Peru there are well over one hundred varieties of wild potatoes. The first potatoes reach Europe about 1530. It took the French some 250 years to realize the culinary value of this tuber when the famous pharmacist, Antoine Augustin Parmentier, popularized the vegetable. By the late 1800's there were over 200 recipes that featured the once feared potato.
For culinary purposes there are basically three types of fresh potatoes you have available today. They are bakers such as Russet Burbank, Russet Arcadia and Superior that are characterized by a high starch content; all purpose potatoes such as Eastern Potato, Yukon Gold, White Rose, Peruvian Blue Yellow Finnish and Red Norland that have a moderate starch content and high moisture; and finally new potatoes and low starch potatoes such as Red La Soda, Red La Rouge, Lady Fingers, Ruby Crescents or creamers that are generally less than two inches, have a thin skin with a low starch content with a sweeter flavor and are often referred to as "waxy" potatoes or "boilers".
Potatoes should be stored in a well ventilated, cool dark place to avoid sprouting and the formation of solanine which is indicated by a green coloration of the skin. You must peel potatoes that have a green hue and remove the sprouting eyes as the solanine is poisonous. Peeled potatoes should be stored in water in the refrigerator. Some commercially peeled potatoes have been treated with antioxidants to prevent discoloration. Refrigeration tends to convert the starch in potatoes into sugar.
The methods of cooking potatoes encompass both moist heat and dry heat. The high starch potatoes generally are better cooked using a dry heat method. The main exception is for mashed potatoes, which can be maid from baked or boiled baking potatoes. High starch potatoes tend to produce an end product which is granular and easy to flake or mash. Dry heat methods include baking, sautéing, deep-frying. They are not as suitable for shaped potatoes as the end product tends to be more delicate.
Moist heat methods would include water immersion (boiling), steaming, cooking in a liquid such as cream or stock. Because of their firmer texture, they tend to hold their shape when cooked in such classic shapes such as chateaux, anglaise, and fondant. The lower starch potatoes are less desirable for purees as the texture tends to be heavy and glutinous.
1- Classic shaped Potatoes
2- Moist cooked potatoes
Pommes Puree, garlic mashed and saffron mashed
Sabot with tomatoes
Fondant and Fondant Lyonnaise
Anglaise or “vapeur”
1- Dry Heat Potatoes
Oven Roasted with Rosemary
Cooking the Gaufrettes and Allumettes
Herb layered Potatoes
Baked stuffed "Biaritz"
Anna and Anna with Vegetable Julienne
Soufflé Potatoes, potatoes permitting
Garlic, Gruyere and Potato Torte
2- There is a whole repertoire of potatoes that are mixed with pâté a choux. These would include dauphine potatoes and croquettes. They are deep fried in the final preparations.
3- Chefs such as Jochim Splichal are using potatoes in new ways such as Potato Lasagne with Lamb Loin and Potato Napoleon. See my recipe for Caviar and Smoked Salmon.