You say potato...
You say potato...
Chefs learn to experiment with the tried-and-true tuber
By Holly Ebel
Heirloom tomatoes and multi-colored eggplants aren't the only vegetables getting attention from chefs and home cooks these days. The humble potato, one of the workhorses in the vegetable kingdom, is turning into a gourmet item and taking its place in the designer vegetable movement.
food Ken Klotzbach post bulletinp Chefs learn to experiment with the tried-and-true tuber
By Holly Ebel
eirloom tomatoes and multi-colored eggplants aren't the only vegetables getting attention from chefs and home cooks these days. The humble potato, one of the workhorses in the vegetable kingdom, is turning into a gourmet item and taking its place in the designer vegetable movement.
Since the introduction a few years ago of the Yukon Gold potato, there has been a slow but steady movement among growers toward the new "old" varieties. Although they might never replace the russet in versatility, both home cooks and chefs are seeking out these varieties in an effort to experiment with a food that has been around for a very long time. Many of the best of these heirlooms have been around for at least 100 years, if not longer.
Aren't potatoes pretty much the same from one variety to the next? Not necessarily. Instead of the familiar brown russets or the smaller red potatoes we see in grocery stores, other varieties range in color from yellow to purple to blue to a deep cranberry with names that evoke far off romantic places: Arran Victory, Beauty of Hebron, Negresse, La Ratte D'Ardeche.
Not only do they have different colors and in some cases unusual shapes, but there are subtle taste differences as well, often determined by the soil types in which they are grown. The Chile/Ancud has a mushroom taste, and Arraon Victory has a hint of hazelnut. Yukon Gold, now widely available, is known for its distinct buttery taste, and the Catriona has a flavor much like freshly baked bread.
It's interesting that, though the outside of these potatoes can be very colorful, it is often confined just to the skin. Some do have colored veins when sliced, or the color is arranged in rings. Others, however, are plain white, like Bliss's Triumph. Cut open a raw Negresse, and it releases an inky juice that can stain.
The yellow-skinned varieties are probably the most popular. These include the Yellow Finns and the Russian Fingerling, so called because its shapes resemble fingers. These varieties, long popular in Europe, are available in late summer. To find these might take a little searching. Outdoor markets usually have a good selection, and so do some gourmet grocery stores. But aside from the Yukon Gold, you will not find them in regular supermarkets.
They can be prepared in all sorts of new and interesting ways, but in general, all can be sliced, diced, chopped, mashed, baked, grilled, braised and fried. The Yukon Golds, Yellow Finn and Purple Peruvians can be baked as well as mashed, but because their starch and moisture content is not as high as the russet, the result will not be as fluffy. Red Bliss and fingerling varieties are best roasted, boiled or used in a salad. Regardless of the variety, potatoes always have been a favorite. They offer a wide range of textures, are easy to eat as well as digest and fill you up.
Choose these heirloom varieties the same way you would russets. They should be firm, smooth and fairly clean. Avoid those that are wrinkled or have wilted skins, soft dark areas or a touch of green. Also buy potatoes of uniform size for even cooking.
Storage is important because it can affect the texture and flavor. Ideally, potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place, between 45 and 50 degrees. Never put potatoes in the refrigerator because the starch will turn to sugar. Stored in temperatures above 50, potatoes sprout and decay faster. The best advice is to buy potatoes as you need them to get the maximum flavor.
Holly Ebel of Rochester is a freelance writer.