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St. Patrick's Day Special: The Art of the Potato

What better way to mark 03/17 than with a quartet of delicious potato recipes?

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I’d probably love potatoes even if I weren’t half Irish… but I’m guessing that it helped.


My Irish grandmother made mashed potatoes that I described in THANKSGIVING, Part One as “clouds of Irish perfection.” Her daughter didn’t quite inherit her mother’s culinary flair, but she nonetheless learned to make perfectly great mashed potatoes. She also fed the four year-old me something she dubbed “men’s potatoes” as an incentive for me to eat them– peeled & quartered small potatoes that she oven-roasted to sweet, crispy-brown wonderfulness. Six decades later, having become an over-the-road trucker as a late-life career has made me somewhat dependent upon roadside diners, and I thereby became a connoisseur of home fries and hash browns.


And so, Dear Readers, the combination of my Irish heritage, my career path, and my propensity for culinary exploration has positioned me to share a few pointers on the Art of the Potato. But first, a little Potatoes 101 is in order. NOTE: As with seafood and other culinary categories, the nomenclature of potatoes seems somewhat unofficial and arbitrary. Here is a short list suitable for our purposes here with generally agreed-upon definitions–


Russet (a.k.a. "Idaho" or “Baking" Potatoes)

Mealy and starchy, with thick skins. They bake up nice and flaky (the better to soak up butter and sour cream) and they are de rigeur for hash browns and my version of mashed potatoes. Can be used for home fries, but not in salads.


White Potatoes

The all-purpose, go-to potato… somewhat inferior to Russets for mashing, slightly better than Russets for Home Fries, and clearly superior to Russets for use in salads.


Red Potatoes

Pretty close to white potatoes beneath their skin; ideal for salads and roasting. (For the record, “Roasting” scorches the skins; “Baking” does not.)


Yukon Gold Potatoes

A yellow-hued, all-purpose spud that resulted from a 1960’s Canadian breeding program. Click HERE for the interesting details. There are numerous varieties of Yellow potatoes available that are not Yukons.


New Potatoes

Small (and therefore young) versions of the aforementioned White, Red, and Yukon or Yellow potatoes; never Russets. You might find slightly smallish Russets, which are perfect for our Pigskins recipe.


So, let’s cook!

Home Fries– use any type of potato you have on hand. Russets work, but not as well as Whites. Red Potatoes, particularly the small ones, are ideal. See recipe HERE.


Above, a maddeningly elusive example of perfect Hash Browns. Below, my Hybrid Potato Pancakes, my Irish-Catholic cross-breed of Hash Browns and Jewish Latkes that entails much more actual work than do Classic Hash Browns in exchange for a much more reliable outcome. Click HERE for recipes for both.


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And finally, I had to purchase a special kitchen tool in order to elevate Mashed Potatoes to something that A.) I could actually make; and B.) I considered good enough to share here at The Table. Behold, my brand-new, German-made, stainless steel Rösle Passetout/Food Mill–

This machine cost three times as much as versions made in TCTMATCC (The Country That Manufactures All That Cheap Crap.) But after my most recent experience (see Worthless Crap Alert!) I refuse to purchase anything else from there. This device from Germany feels like a well-engineered, well-built beast that will last for decades. Here’s the recipe–


DannyM.’s Heavenly Mashed Potatoes


We’ll leave the exact quantities up to the individual user.


Russet Potatoes

Organic Garlic (optional)

Cold Lightly Salted Water

A Stick or so of Melted Butter

Clarified Butter

Crème Fraîche (sub-recipe HERE)

Milk, Cream, or a combination thereof

Salt & Pepper


Peel potatoes, cut into reasonably sized chunks, and place in the pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil. While the potato water is heating, peel and coarsely (but NOT finely) chop the garlic and briefly sauté in a dab of clarified butter. Do NOT brown it. Add cooked garlic to potato pot. As it comes to a boil, melt the stick of butter in a small pan.


When the potato chunks readily yield to a gentle prod of your fork, drain well and feed the pieces into your new food mill while still hot and process them into a mixing bowl. Add melted butter, a healthy dab of the Crème Fraîche you started making a few days ago, and a little salt and pepper– less salt if you used salted butter. GENTLY fold everything together with a large rubber spatula, mindful that the more you mix, the more undesirably gooey the result. Allow the mixture to rest for a few minutes and taste. Add additional salt and pepper as necessary, and thin as desired with the milk, cream, or combination thereof. CAREFULLY fold everything together with the spatula, allow to rest, then enjoy.


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And whether or not you are blessed with even a drop of Irish blood… for that matter, even if you don’t even eat potatoes… we at The Table wish one and all a happy St. Patrick’s Day!



NOTES:


My mother-in-law makes her batch of Mashed Potatoes the day before and then bakes it for dinner service… with fantastic results. I suspect that the overnight rest does it good.


The Table’s Webmistress WinH. makes her own ketchup, which is absolutely wonderful with our Home Fries and Hash Browns. (Essay & Recipe HERE.)

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