(Oct. 28) The world is full of meat-and-potatoes guys. You can slip dainty asparagus tips and patty pan squash onto the plate, but guests expect their comfort food.
With little effort, baked and mashed potatoes go a long way toward satisfying the starch addiction. But look for more creative ways to feed the habit.
EXPLORE VARIETIES, FORMS AND COLORS
Considering potato sweetness levels, David Garrido, executive chef for the two Jeffrey’s restaurants in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., says russets have the lowest sugar content. Just above them on the sweet scale are red B-sized spuds, followed by yukon golds and blue potatoes. Sweet potatoes, of course, are the sweetest.
Blue potatoes have more of a root flavor, Garrido says. He likes to cook them in sherry or mash them for a unique color to the popular preparation. “We keep light on the flavoring with buttermilk and parmesan cheese. We also like to grill (blue potatoes). It brings out the blue,” he says. Jeffrey’s also operates Cipollina Café and O’s Campus Café at the University of Texas, also in Austin.
Garrido likes to use yukon gold potatoes for mashed potatoes and potato cakes. “It gives them a bright yellow color and a sweeter taste,” he says.
To serve with venison, he likes to bake a potato casserole featuring sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, beets and yuca root, all cut into chunks and mixed with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.
Something Different restaurant in Indianapolis does with potatoes what the restaurant name suggests. Executive chef Steven Oakley makes potato cylinders, shells, pancakes and puree.
He creates an Idaho russet cannelloni by using a slicing machine that cuts the potato into a long sheet, which he wraps around a lobster tail, scallops or other fish. Then he sears and roasts the creation. Mushrooms also make a great filling, he says.
For another potato shell, Oakley forms long strands of potato like angel hair around a wooden dowel, which creates a cylinder after he deep fries it. He pulls the shell off the dowel after it cools and fills it halfway with potato puree and tops it with oxtail ragu. He pairs this with tuna, he says.
Oakley prefers yukon gold potatoes for potato pancakes because of the color and light creamy texture. For a unique disk-shaped potato pancake, he makes a crepelike batter of potato, egg, milk, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. He pours the batter into ring molds and bakes them. Herbs flavor the pancakes, he says.
USE YOUR IMAGINATION
Try your hand at unusual potato applications that will surprise your guests.
Michael Tsonton, executive chef at Courtright’s Restaurant in Willow Springs, Ill., developed several interesting recipes for the Idaho Potato Commission, Boise, including Canadian lobster roasted in Michigan hay with ras el hanout and potato foam and lychee sorbet with candied potato peel.
The foam squirted on top of the lobster makes everything on the plate a backdrop to the potato foam, he says. He cooks the potatoes in salted water and puts them through a potato ricer. Then he mixes them by hand with warm milk and a little potato water with butter, salt and pepper. He puts the mixture into a container that allows him to spray it as foam on top of the dish. For more potato foam pizzazz, you could add lemon grass, fresh tarragon or fruit juice, he says.
To make a dessert out of potatoes, Tsonton made a candied potato peel by thinly slicing potatoes, keeping the peel on, and lightly poaching the slices in sweetened condensed milk. Then he patted the slices dry and brushed them with clarified butter, sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon and placed them between two nonstick mats. He baked them until they were crisp and used them as a garnish to the lychee sorbet. “They taste like sweet potato crisps,” he says.
Kerry Heffernan, executive chef/partner of Eleven Madison Park restaurant in New York, created an Idaho potato speck tart recipe for the commission. After boiling the potatoes, he gently folds them together with rendered bacon, butter and speck (smoked prosciutto), adding rosemary and garlic. After slightly chilling the mixture, he lightly presses it into muffin tins, heats them on the stove and finishes them in the oven. The side dish goes with roasted chicken.
COVER THE BASICS
Even if you don’t do anything exotic with potatoes, you’ll still satisfy many guests with simple baked or mashed potatoes.
For efficiency, consider buying value-added baking potatoes.
Potato Products of Idaho, Rigby, does about 40% of its value-added potato business with foodservice, says Ron Romrell, company president.
The company offers two-, three- and four-count overwrapped trays of washed and sorted baking potatoes; 50-pound cartons of sorted, washed and foil-wrapped potatoes; and boxes of sorted and washed potatoes with no overwrap, he says.
Recently the company began offering tray-packed potatoes — washed and ready to go — that can be microwaved.
Foil-wrapped potatoes are most popular for foodservice, he says.
However, the Idaho Potato Commission encourages foodservice operators not to bake potatoes in foil because it traps the water in the potato and turns it soft and mushy, says Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice.
“People think it cooks faster (in foil), but we did a study five or six years ago that shows the foil has to heat before the potato will bake. You lose about 10 minutes. Once the foil heats, it closes the gap, but it still takes longer,” he says.
He recognizes that some operators use foil to keep the potato hot. In that case, he suggests foil-wrapping the potato after baking it.
Idaho, the leading potato-producing state, is popular for its russet (burbank and norkotah) varieties with the optimum 21% ratio of starch or solids to water. “It’s the magic number. At 21% you get a dry and fluffy (baked potato). At 18% or 19%, it’s waxier like red or yukon gold. If you go over 21%, the potato may be too dry and fall or break apart so it’s not well-suited to french fries,” he says.
The russet’s starch-to-water ratio keeps mashed potatoes from becoming gummy, Odiorne says.
The commission offers an Idaho potato how-to kit, which gives menu ideas and preparation tips for fries, mashed, baked (including twice baked), hash brown and scalloped potatoes.