“I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.”
Nora Ephron, Heartbreak
“I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine, except for that, I know of nothing more eminently tasteless.”
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste
Potatoes are revered, maligned, and misunderstood. Originating in Peru or Chile, depending on the food historian, potatoes were introduced to the Old World in the 1550’s by Spanish Conquistadors. Potatoes were not readily accepted because they are a member of the nightshade family and thought to be poisonous. Sir Walter Raleigh helped debunk that myth when he planted them on his property in Ireland. Later, Antoine-August Parmentier, a French agronomist, posted armed guards around his property by day and removed the guards at night, prompting thieves to nightly steal sacks of this precious crop, thus introducing potatoes to French cuisine. During the Alaskan gold rush potatoes were so valued that miners traded gold for potatoes. The first episode of The French Chef with Julia Child on PBS in 1962 focused on the potato.
Buy potatoes depending on what the end product will be. Waxy potatoes like red-skinned and fingerlings hold their shape when cooked and are best used in soups and salads. Mealy potatoes such as russets are drier and starchier and are excellent for mashing and baking. All-purpose potatoes like Yukon Gold and white are “in between” and can be used in most recipes.
Choose potatoes that are firm, with no soft spots, and that are evenly shaped. Avoid potatoes with sprouts as this is a sign they were stored in a warm place and have lost flavor. Also avoid potatoes with green spots. This is a sign of chlorophyll that occurs when the potatoes are exposed to excessive light after harvesting.
Store potatoes in a cool, dark place. Never refrigerate them. If they do begin to sprout but are still firm, remove the sprouts and cook soon. Properly stored potatoes will keep about 10 weeks.
When peeling potatoes, the flesh will begin to oxidize and cause discoloration. To avoid this, place peeled, cut potatoes in a bowl of cold water where they can stay for a few hours before you cook them. If you are shredding potatoes such as for latkes, placing them in cold water will not work well, so try to shred them just before cooking. Any discoloration that appears will not impact the taste and will disapperar in the cooking process.
Potatoes are rich in Vitamin C and potassium. They also offer fiber, especially when eaten with the skin-on. It is the “extras” such as butter, sour cream, bacon, cheese, etc. that we mound on the potato that adds calories.