One of the world’s most recognisable food items, the potato has ridden the rollercoaster of popularity over the years. It occasionally falls from grace when faddish, low-carb diets grab the headlines, but the fact remains potatoes are virtually fat-free, packed full of vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants and lend themselves to a wonderful range of culinary uses.
Thanks to the growth of farmers’ markets around the country there is now a wonderfully diverse range of potatoes available. Where once there were only the supermarket brands, now tiny delights such as Cliff’s Kidney and the waxy Karuparera are finding increasing popularity.
The most important requirement when cooking potatoes is to take time to find the right cooking method and recipe for the type of potato you’re using. But, as with many foods, it can simply come down to personal preference. I like to make gratins with floury potatoes but some like to use waxy potatoes for a firmer result. Small waxy potatoes roast beautifully, but then so do par-boiled floury. Keep experimenting, as sometimes the most unexpected combinations work brilliantly.
There are generally three categories into which potatoes fall, but there are still anomalies: weather, climate and soil can all have an effect on the cooking performance of a potato. As the season progresses, some potatoes can change their suitability to a recipe – for example early season Ilam Hardy can be quite waxy, but towards the end will convert to a floury potato.
Types of potato
Waxy: high moisture content, low in starch with a thin skin. Holds its shape during cooking and stays firm when boiled.
Use for salads, casseroles, sautéing, boiling, gratins and soups where the potato needs to stay intact.
Jersey Benne, Cliffs Kidney, Tiffany, Red King Edward, Liseta, Rocket, Nadine, Draga, Frisia
Floury: low moisture content, high in starch and sugar. Will collapse when boiled.
Use for mashing, fries, roasting, baking, sautéing, gratins and soups where the potato is used as a thickening agent.
Agria, Ilam Hardy, Fianna, Red Rascal, White Delight, Victoria, Russet, Burbank
All purpose: these fall into the grey area of being neither waxy nor floury. They will work in recipes but won’t necessarily deliver the same result as you would get if using the correct type of potato.
Rua, Desiree, Karaka, Maris Anchor, Red Ruby, Moonlight, Rocket
Maori: becoming more widely available, but many only through farmers’ markets. These potatoes come in a fantastic array of colours and have lovely nutty flavours, especially those grown by small producers as opposed to coming out of a hothouse environment.
Old Blue, Urenika, Huakaroro, Ngauteuteu, Pawhero, Rakiura, Kowiniwini, Wiremu, Karuparera, Moemoe
Keep potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, but not the refrigerator as the flavour changes considerably. A cardboard box or paper bag makes a good storage container. Don’t store them with other ethylene-producing vegetables such as onions. When exposed to light, potatoes develop solanine, which causes green colouring leading to high levels of poisonous alkaloids which should never be eaten. Discard or return them to your retailer.
Delicious meals are a breeze and flavour combinations are endless with the versatile spud. Try some of the following ideas:
- Make salads using cooked waxy potatoes, tossed with a dressing while still warm for maximum flavour. Combine sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, capers, tarragon and extra virgin olive oil. Add potatoes and crumble over feta cheese.
- Toss through a red wine vinaigrette. Sear slices of tuna on both sides. Combine with cooked green beans, roasted red peppers, olives and anchovies.
- Fry chopped bacon and finely sliced spring onions until bacon is crisp. Add grain mustard, vinegar and olive oil to sauté pan and let it bubble up. Add chopped fresh herbs and season. Pour over potatoes and combine.
- Combine crème fraîche, lemon juice and chives. Toss through potatoes. Pile onto cos lettuce leaves and top with grilled, butterflied sardines.
- Roast small potatoes tossed in olive oil until nearly tender. Add chilli flakes, smoked paprika, toasted saffron, chopped thyme and pine nuts. Cook until potatoes are tender. Cool a little, add rocket and toss together.
- Par boil potatoes then slice in half. Brush with olive oil and barbecue until golden and tender. Toss with olive oil, vinegar, crushed garlic, roasted red capsicums, shredded salami, sliced spring onions, chopped fresh herbs and olives.
- Floury potatoes make fabulous gratins. Allow enough time for the potatoes to become meltingly creamy on the inside with a golden crust on top. Simmer chicken stock, white wine, bay leaves, thyme and garlic to infuse. Add sliced potatoes, cook 10 minutes. Tip into gratin dish, top with grated Parmesan and dot with butter. Bake until tender and golden.
- Add chopped, cooked silver beet to a pan with sizzling butter, anchovies and garlic. Layer with sliced raw potatoes, ending with potatoes. Pour in chicken stock and sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese. Bake until tender and golden.
- Simmer sliced potatoes with milk, garlic and bay leaves until half cooked. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half the potatoes to a buttered gratin dish. Scatter with grated gruyere cheese and cream. Top with remaining potatoes and more gruyere and cream. Grate over nutmeg and bake until tender and golden.
- Layer sliced potatoes with caramelized red onions and thinly sliced celeriac. Pour over hot beef or chicken stock and cook until tender.
- Sauté mushrooms and leeks until tender. Drain off excess liquid. Layer with sliced potatoes and pour over a combination of hot milk and cream infused with a little saffron and crushed garlic.
Great flavour combinations
Crispy fried potatoes go with: roasted garlic and saffron aioli; romescu; blue cheese and sour cream; tomato and chilli jam; salsa verde; herbed yoghurt; crème fraîche and mint dressing; sour cream and poppy seed dressing; lemon and caper mayonnaise.
Mashed potatoes go with: finely chopped spring onions; horseradish; garlic, flat-leaf parsley and olive oil; roasted garlic; Parmesan, wilted spinach and pine nuts; toasted saffron; finely sliced and cooked cabbage, toasted cumin seeds and chives; grain mustard.