Sunday, April 22, 2012

Basics - Potatoes... or... this spuds for you!

French Pommes Anna

It was once said.."Give a man a fish and he eats for a day...teach him to fish, and he eats for life..."

I am surprised when I hear that some of the basic elements to cooking are confusing to most people.Let's take something basic like the simple potato. The ability of the potato to deliver on so many dishes, combined with some simple basic cooking techniques and the low cost per pound, makes the potato worthy of being called one of the most versatile items in the market.

Whether it is mashed, baked or made into French fries, many people often think of the potato as a comfort food. This sentiment probably inspired the potato's scientific name, Solanum tuberosum, since solanum is derived from a Latin word meaning "soothing". The potato's name also reflects that it belongs to the Solanaceae family whose other members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos. There are about100 varieties of edible potatoes. They range in size, shape, color, starch content and flavor. They are often classified as either mature potatoes (the large potatoes that we are generally familiar with) and new potatoes (those that are harvested before maturity and are of a much smaller size). Some of the popular varieties of mature potatoes include the Russet Burbank, the White Rose and the Katahdin, while the Red LeSoda and Red Pontiac are two types of new potatoes. There are also delicate fingerling varieties available which, as their name suggests, are finger-shaped. The skin of potatoes is generally brown, red or yellow, and may be smooth or rough, while the flesh is yellow or white. There are also other varieties available that feature purple-grey skin and a beautiful deep violet flesh. As potatoes have a neutral starchy flavor, they serve as a good complement to many meals. Their texture varies slightly depending upon their preparation, but it can be generally described as rich and creamy.

Here are some simple basic ways to transform a simple potato.

Dice and place in boiling water till tender, drain, add a little cream and butter, mash and you have the classic mashed potatoes. Cut into sticks, deep fry in oil and you have French fries. Baked in an oven for 30-45 min and you have a baked potato, all ready for the sour cream butter and chives. Or you can take it one step farther and make one of my favorites, Pommes Anna. Slice a potato into thin discs, layer 5-6 layers in a skillet that has been buttered adding a little salt and pepper with each layer, bake for 30 min, and you have a classic French dish. A dish that calls out simple elegance.

Classic French Pommes Anna
Yield: Serves 4-6

2 1/2- 3 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Peel the potatoes and, using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade or a mandoline, slice them very thin, transferring them as they are sliced to a large bowl of cold water. Drain the slices and pat them dry between paper towels. Generously brush the bottom and side of a 9-inch heavy ovenproof skillet, preferably non-stick, with some of the butter and in the skillet arrange the slices, overlapping them slightly, in layers, brushing each layer with some of the remaining butter and seasoning it with salt and pepper. Cover the layered potato slices with a buttered round foil, tamp down the assembled potato cake firmly, and bake it in the middle of a preheated 425°F. oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake the potato cake for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the slices are tender and golden. Invert the potato cake onto a cutting board, wait 10 min., then cut it into 8 wedges.

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