Potatoes

We’ve just planted a few drills of potatoes in our garden, three different types Orla, Pink Fir Apple, Golden Wonders – not too many of any variety but a selection of old-fashioned varieties to tantalise the taste buds right through from early June into the following year. (You only mention three varieties – but here is the sequence Willie Scannell gave me for the Slow Article – Home Guard/late May early June, British Queens/about 3rd week in June, Kerrs Pinks/late Summer early Autumn, and Golden Wonders to see you through the Winter)

I urge home gardeners or anyone with even a small scrap of land to plant a few spuds, the simple pleasure of planting in rich friable soil and then approximately one month later, sheer joy when you carefully push the fork into the ground under the stalk to reveal a whole cluster of potatoes underneath, pure magic.

Straight into the kitchen, a quick scrub and into the pot. Try cooking them in sea water occasionally if you live close to the coast. Otherwise eat them with rich Irish butter and flakes of Maldon Sea Salt.

This is the food that nourished our ancestors and played such a pivotal role in our history. This simple tuber which originated in the Andes was in domestic use in Peru by 3000 BC.

It was introduced to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh. He apparently planted some tubers at Myrtle Grove, his property in Youghal, Co Cork, when he stopped off on his return to Britain after an expedition to do battle with the Spaniards in the Caribbean.

The potato revolutionised Western civilisation as dramatically as the motor car. Originally it was regarded as food suitable only for pigs and peasants. Later, in great measure due to Antoine Auguste Parmentier, a French pharmacist, it became fashionable and chic. Convinced of its nutritional benefits be gave a court dinner at which he served potatoes at every course. Its popularity was assured when he managed to persuade Marie Antoinette to wear potato flowers in her hair. To this day when you see Parmentier on a French menu, it indicates that the dish includes potato.

Once introduced, the potato quickly became a staple, nutritious, delicious, easy to cook, suitable for both animals and humans. It can be a delicacy or fast food. From the cook’s perspective it is uniquely versatile. It can be boiled, baked, steamed, roasted, sautéed, deep fried, and with a little ingenuity can be very successfully used in sweet as well as savoury dishes.

After its introduction to Ireland the potato became the staple and was credited for the population explosion – by 1940 an estimated nine million people lived in Ireland. The potato was virtually the sole nourishment of millions of people so when the crop failed in 1945 and again in 1946, it resulted in devastation all over the country. Over a million people perished and there was mass emigration to America. A salutary lesson for mankind not to rely on a single crop or variety as food stuff.

Well, back to the kitchen – think about planting a few potatoes yourself, otherwise seek out Irish potatoes that have been grown with little or no artificial nitrogen. You will need to pay a little more but the end result will be delicious floury potatoes. Note the variety and notice the difference in flavour and texture – I love Golden Wonders and Kerrs Pinks at this time of the year but the the season is coming to an end and we’ll soon have the new potatoes to look forward to.

Potato Crisps or Game Chips

A mandolin slicer is useful though not essential for slicing.

These are paper thin rounds of potato which are fried at 180ºC/350ºF until absolutely crisp, drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt. Serve hot or cold.

Provided they are properly cooked they will keep perfectly in a tin box for several days. These crisps or game chips are the traditional accompaniment to roast pheasant or guinea fowl.

Garlic Crisps

Cook the crisps as above, put into a hot serving dish, melt some garlic butter and drizzle it over the crisps, serve immediately as a snack or as an accompaniment to hamburgers or steaks or on a salade tiede.

Volcanic Crisps

Add 1 -2 tablespoons of chilli flakes to the butter with the garlic and parsley. Serve as above.

Pommes Gaufrette

A mandolin is essential for slicing these potatoes. Rotate the potatoes 90º between each cut so the slices are latticed. Deep fry for 2-3 minutes at 190ºC or until crisp and golden.

Souffle Potatoes

Slice potatoes very thinly on a mandolin one-sixteenth inch thick. Deep fry at 180º for 4-5 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Drain and cool. Just before serving fry again at 195º - they will puff up immediately. Cook for a minute or two more until crisp and golden.

Potato and Rosemary Foccacia

Serves 10-12

1 x white yeast bread dough (see recipe below)

6 medium potatoes, almost cooked, peeled and thinly sliced
175 -225 g (6-8 ozs) Fontina or Cheddar cheese
Rosemary sprigs
Olive oil 
Salt and freshly ground pepper

11 x 16 inch (28 x 40.5cm) baking tray

Make the dough, knead well and allow to rise until well doubled in size. >Knock back= and allow to rest for 4 or 5 minutes. 
Roll the dough into a rectangle to cover the baking tray.
Dimple the dough with your fingertips. Brush with olive oil. 
Cover with thin slices of Fontina or Cheddar cheese.
Season the slices of potato well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange in overlapping slices over the dough and cheese. Sprinkle with rosemary and drizzle with olive oil. 
Bake in a preheated oven 230C/450F/regulo 8 for 20-25 minutes or until the base is crusty and the potatoes are beginning to crisp. 

Drizzle with olive oil and eat warm.

Ballymaloe White Yeast Bread

Makes 2 x 450g (1lb) loaves
This basic white yeast bread dough is multi purpose. Shape it in loaves or use it for plaits, rolls, twists or for pizza bases.

20g (¾oz) fresh yeast, non GMO
425ml (15floz) water, more as needed
25g (1oz) butter
2 teaspoons dairy salt
15g (½oz) sugar
680g (1½ lb) strong white flour

poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping - optional
2 x loaf tins 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch) - optional

Mix the yeast with 140ml (¼ pint) lukewarm water until dissolved. Put the butter, salt and sugar into a bowl with 140ml (¼pint) of very hot water, stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved and butter melted. Add 140ml (¼pint) of cold water. By now, the liquid should be lukewarm or blood heat, so combine with the yeast. 

Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in most of the lukewarm liquid. Mix to a loose dough adding the remainder of the liquid, or more flour or liquid if necessary. Turn the dough onto a floured board, cover and leave to relax for 5 minutes approx. Then knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth, springy and elastic (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough). 

Put the dough in a bowl, preferably pottery or delph, but stainless steel or plastic are also fine. Cover the top tightly with cling film - yeast dough rises best in a warm moist atmosphere. If you want to speed up the rising process put the bowl near your cooker, or a radiator, or close to an Aga. Rising time depends on the temperature, however the bread will taste better if it rises more slowly. When the dough has more than doubled in size, knead again for about 2 - 3 minutes or until all the air has been forced out - this is called ‘knocking back’. Allow to rest for 4-5 minutes. 

Crozier Blue Champ

Serves 4-6

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions and a blob of butter melting in the centre is ‘comfort’ food at its best.

1.5kg (3lb) 6-8 unpeeled 'old' potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g
chopped chives
350ml (10-12fl oz) milk
55-110g (2-4oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
75-110g (3-4 ozs) Crozier Blue cheese, crumbled

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the crumbled Crozier Blue Cheese just before serving. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre. Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4. Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin. 

Potato and Sweetcorn Chowder

A satisfying and filling soup made in a short time. This could be a supper dish if eaten with a few scones and followed by a salad.
Serves: 4-6

2-3 medium potatoes, parboiled for 10 minutes, drained, peeled and finely chopped
450g (1 lb) sweetcorn kernels
30g (1 oz) butter
170g (6 oz) approx. onion, finely chopped
300ml (10 fl oz) home-made chicken stock
300ml (10 fl oz) milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
250ml (8 fl oz) light cream or creamy milk
Garnish
roasted red pepper dice or crispy bacon dice

sprigs of flat parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onion and potato and sweat until soft but not coloured. Gradually add in the stock and milk, stirring all the time, and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, add the corn, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and cook gently for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Add the cream and heat through gently without boiling.
Serve in hot bowls with a little dice of roasted red pepper or crispy bacon and parsley on top.

Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it out with a little chicken or vegetable stock.

Raclette

Raclette cheese – allow about 6ozs (175g) per person
freshly boiled potatoes -3 – 4 per person
Lettuce - 3 – 4 leaves per person
Pickles, optional - 3 – 4 per person
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Raclette Stove

Put the Raclette stove in the centre of the table and turn on the heat. Cut the cheese into scant 3 inch (5mm) thick slices and put a slice onto each little pan.
Meanwhile serve freshly boiled potatoes and crisp lettuce on hot plates to each person. Just as soon as the cheese melts, each person spoons it over their potatoes and put another piece on to melt. Raclette is great fun for a dinner party.


Foolproof Food

The Perfect Chip

Sales of frozen and pre prepared chips have rocketed in a relatively short time so much so that I feel many people have forgotten how easy it is to make chips at home.

The secret of really sensational chips is surprise, surprise. 

1. Good quality 'old' potatoes eg. Golden Wonder or Kerrs Pinks 

2. Best quality oil, lard or beef fat for frying. We frequently use olive oil because its flavour is so good and because when properly looked after it can be used over and over again. Avoid poor quality oils which have an unpleasant taste and a pervasive smell.

3. Scrub the potatoes well and peel or leave unpeeled according to taste. Cut into similar size chips so they will cook evenly. 

4. Rinse quickly in cold water but do not soak. Dry meticulously with a damp tea towel or kitchen towel before cooking otherwise the water will boil on contact with the oil in the deep fry and may cause it to overflow.

Do not overload the basket, otherwise the temperature of the oil will be lowered, 

consequently the chips will be greasy rather than crisp. Shake the pan once or twice, to separate the chips while cooking.

They could be -

Straw potatoes, finest possible strips about 2 ½ inch (6.5cm) long, cook quickly at 195ºC/385ºF until completely crisp.

Matchstick, similar length but slightly thicker, cook as above.

Mignonette, ¼ inch (5mm) thick x 2 ½ inch (6.5cm) long, cook as above.

Pont Neuf, about ½ inch (1 cm) thick and 2 ½inch (6.5cm) long.

Jumbo chips, about ¾ inch (2 cm) thick and 2 ½inch (6.5cm) long.

Buffalo chips, similar size to Jumbo but unpeeled.

To cook the first three types: Fry quickly in oil at 195ºC/385ºC until completely crisp.

To cook the last three sizes: Fry twice, once at 160ºC/32º0F until they are soft and just beginning to brown, the time will vary from 4-10 minutes depending on size, drain, increase the heat to 190ºC/375ºF and cook for a further 1-2 minutes or until crisp and golden. Shake the basket, drain well, toss onto kitchen paper, sprinkle with a little salt, turn onto a hot serving dish and serve immediately.
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Top Tips

If you feel moved to grow your own, Caroline Robinson sells a selection of organic seed potatoes from her stall at the Coal Quay Market in Cork on Saturday mornings – she is almost run out but keep in mind for next year.

Michael Collins and several others also sell small quantities of seed potatoes at Skibbereen Farmers Market, also on Saturday mornings.

Seaweed dug into the soil enhances the flavour. 

Add some crushed cumin or coriander to mashed potatoes or potato cakes – delicious. 

Food Additives and Food Labels at Cork Free Choice Consumer Group Meeting –Thursday April 29th at Crawford Gallery Café, Emmet Place- How to read labels and know exactly what those additives are . Wayne Anderson, Scientific Adviser to the Food Safety Board of Ireland and Chris Barrett – a housewife’s experience. Admission €5 including tea & coffee.

Visiting London in May – don’t miss Fantasy Gardens at Harrods - the famous department store will become a living garden with the launch of Fantasy Gardens from 4th of May for the whole month –just to mention a few of the associated food events - New to the Food Hall will be Enivrance – an exciting virtual food concept from France. Morelli’s Gelateria, an ice cream parlour in the Food Hall will launch some new flavours including, Rhubarb and Green Tea. There will be workshops with leading chefs about outdoor entertaining and cooking with flowers. Milliner Phillip Treacy will host a tea party with fashionista Isabella Blow, in the Georgian Restaurant while the new Spring/Summer collection will be shown … there is much, much more.