The humble potato doesn’t look very exciting. And what can you make with potatoes? Here are some of the most popular potato dishes for you to try.
The History of Potatoes
Potatoes were first discovered when the Spanish invaded Peru, in 1536. They had been cultivated by the Inca Indians, natives of Peru, from 8,000 – 5,000 B.C. The Spanish liked the taste of the potatoes so much that they took them back to Europe.
Sir Walter Raleigh was said to have introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589, starting with 40,000 acres of land near Cork, in Southern Ireland. Potatoes became a staple diet of the Irish but it took another four decades before they spread to the rest of Europe.
Unfortunately, people viewed potatoes with suspicion when they were first introduced, believing them to be poisonous (and wild potatoes were indeed poisonous before they were cultivated) or they refused to eat them because potatoes weren’t mentioned in the bible.
Today, solanum tuberosum, to give the potato it’s Latin name, is the fourth largest crop produced in the world, along with wheat, rice and maize. Idaho in the USA is the largest producer of potatoes, although they didn’t start growing them until 1836. Potatoes are popular worldwide and every culture has different recipes and uses for them.
Here in Britain, potatoes are our favourite form of carbohydrates. Think buttery mash, golden chips, crunchy roast potatoes, jacket potatoes, and potato salad. There are as many varieties of potatoes as there are recipes for them.
Potatoes come in two main types, floury and waxy. Floury potatoes are suitable for mashing, boiling, roasting and baking while waxy potatoes are better for potato salad or new potatoes cooked in their skins. Make sure you get the right potato for the right recipe.
Floury potatoes include varieties like King Edward, Desiree, and Maris Piper. Waxy potatoes include Jersey Royals, Charlotte and Anya. These have a firm texture and don’t break apart during cooking.
Here are some tips on how to cook potatoes and how to turn them into things like mash, chips or jacket potatoes.
How To Cook Potatoes
First of all, you need to choose the right variety of potato for the job. As previously mentioned, floury potatoes are good all-rounders and can be used to mash, boil, roast, bake or fry. Maris Piper has one of the best flavours. They are very versatile too. Red-skinned potatoes such as Desiree are good for roasting and baking.
Try a few different ones and see which varieties you prefer.
Potatoes need to be peeled before cooking, unless you’re making potatoes in their jackets (baked potatoes) or potato wedges, which taste nicer with the skin on. But you can remove it if you want.
Invest in a sturdy peeler. This can be used not only to peel potatoes but also carrots, parsnips and other root vegetables. You can also use it to make vegetable ribbons for a salad. Once the potato is peeled, cut it into pieces and give it a quick rinse under the cold tap. Potatoes do produce a lot of starch but this isn’t usually a problem.
To make mashed potatoes, peel about 500g of potatoes, to serve 4 people. Put the chunks of peeled potato into a pan of cold water, add salt (about a teaspoon) and put a lid on the pan. Bring it up to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes with a lid on the pan, until the potatoes are soft but not falling apart. Test them after 15 minutes by pushing the point of a knife into them. If the knife meets resistance, they need a bit longer.
Drain the cooked potatoes in a colander and shake off the excess water. Tip them back into the hot pan and add a good splash of milk, some salt and pepper and about 25g of butter per 500g of potatoes.
Using a potato masher or a large fork, start to break up the potatoes, making sure there are no lumps. You should have a smooth, fluffy texture. You can also use an electric hand whisk. This is the easier option. Serve mashed potatoes with sausages, pie, roast chicken or just eat a bowl of mash on its own. It’s great comfort food.
You can flavour your mash with all sorts of good things, like grated cheese, onions fried in butter, horseradish sauce, herbs like chives and parsley or garlic and olive oil. All are delicious.
Chips and French Fries
Chips are another favourite of mine. Chips are generally chunkier than French fries, which are much thinner. French fries are considered to be the national dish of Belgium; Belgians eat a third more French fries than Americans. But they are loved all over the world.
In Britain we like our chips served with fish deep fried in batter, accompanied by such things as pickled onions, gherkins (pickled cucumbers), tartare sauce and tomato ketchup.
Chips vary in size and range from chunky ‘steak cut’ chips, potato wedges or crinkle cut chips to the skinny frites eaten in France. They’re all good; especially with some creamy mayonnaise to dip them into.
A childhood favourite of mine was a ‘chip butty’ – two slices of well-buttered white bread with a heap of chips, salt and vinegar and ketchup sandwiched between the slices. Delicious!
A pub near to where I live did the most amazing loaded fries; a big bowl of hot, golden chips topped with crispy bacon and melted cheese with soured cream and chive dip. Absolute heaven and very moreish too.
To make the perfect deep-fried chips, you need a deep fat fryer or a deep frying pan filled no more than half full with oil, such as sunflower or vegetable oil. For this example, we will use Maris Piper potatoes. It’s up to you whether you peel them or leave the skins on. They’re good either way.
For 4 people, you need about 800g of potatoes. Preheat the pan on the hob over a medium to high heat. (Or you can use a domestic deep fat fryer.)
While the oil is heating up, cut the potatoes in half, then each half into 4 slices, about 2.5cm thick. Cut across the slices lengthways to give evenly sized chips. This should give you nice, chunky chips but not too thick.
Wash the chips under cold running water then dry them thoroughly in a clean tea towel. The chips must be dry or the oil will spit when you add the chips to the pan – you could get a nasty burn.
If you’re using a frying pan, to test if the oil is hot enough put a cube of potato in and if it starts to bubble and sizzle and rise to the top, the oil is hot enough.
Lower the chips carefully into the hot oil using a sieve (or use a wire basket with a handle that comes with chip pans.) Cook them for about 8 minutes then remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon. (This is enough to soften the chips but not brown them.) Transfer to a plate or baking tray then turn up the heat and bring the oil back up to temperature. Use another cube of potato to check if it’s hot enough, as before.
Return the chips to the pan and fry until they’re a nice golden brown. You might want to do this in 2 batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Stay and keep an eye on it, never leave a chip pan unattended. Drain on crumpled kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve piping hot with ketchup or mayonnaise for dunking.
*Sweet potatoes also make good chips, but it’s best to peel them first.
Perfect Roast Potatoes
Proper roast potatoes are a thing of beauty – crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle. It might take a few goes to get it just right but it’s well worth persevering. Practice makes perfect as they say. My mum was a good cook but I must admit her roast potatoes weren’t the best. (Sorry, mum!)
The first thing you need to make perfect roast potatoes is the right variety of potato. Floury potatoes like Maris Piper, King Edward and Desiree all work well and have a good texture. The next thing you need is very hot fat or oil. Putting the potatoes into cold oil means they’ll become greasy inside and out and won’t go crispy.
Par-boiling the potatoes is essential. This softens the outside enough to rough up the edges, helping to create that crispy, crunchy surface that is the holy grail of roast potatoes.
If you have all of these things then you won’t go far wrong.
For 4 people, you’ll need 1.2kg of potatoes. Peel them and cut them into chunks; not too small or they will break up. Place in a saucepan, add a teaspoon of salt and fill the pan with cold water, enough to just cover the potatoes. Put a lid on the pan and bring to the boil then lower the heat and cook the potatoes for 5 minutes. Tip them into a colander and drain off the water then give the colander a good shake. This helps to roughen the surface of each piece of potato so it will go crispy in the oven.
Add some oil to a roasting tin lined with non-stick baking paper, or better still, reheat the juices from a roast. This gives a much better flavour than oil. You can also use goose or duck fat, or beef dripping, available in jars from the supermarket. Duck fat roast potatoes are to die for. You need about 3cm of fat in the base of the tin. Get it nice and hot so that it’s sizzling then quickly but carefully tip in the potatoes and turn them in the fat with tongs so they’re evenly coated.
Roast for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C/400F. After this time turn the potatoes over then return them to the oven for another 15 – 20 minutes. You’re aiming for a nice deep, golden brown colour.
Serve the potatoes straight away, sprinkled with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
A jacket potato is the perfect snack, there are so many different fillings and toppings to choose from. As jacket potatoes take so long to cook in the oven, I’ve found a way to speed up the cooking without sacrificing too much in the way of taste and texture.
You will need one potato per person, about 250 – 300g in weight. Again, floury potatoes are what you need. Wash the potatoes thoroughly and dry them on kitchen paper. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork then place them in the microwave on a sheet of kitchen paper and cook for about 8 – 10 minutes, testing with a skewer to see if the middle is soft. If not, give it another 2 minutes. Preheat your oven to its highest setting.
Bake the potatoes in the oven for about 10 – 12 minutes until the skin has crisped up. The inside should be nice and fluffy too. Cut the potatoes in half and add a generous knob of butter and follow with your chosen topping. Here are a few suggestions:
* Grated cheddar cheese
* Baked beans
* Canned tuna with mayonnaise
* Brie and crispy bacon
* Mushrooms fried in garlic butter
* Chilli con Carne
* Leftover curry
* Cream cheese and spring onions
* Ham and coleslaw
* Soured cream and chives
And anything else you can think of.
This is a very popular potato dish. The one we know and love is simply cooked new potatoes mixed with mayonnaise. But there is so much more to potato salad than this.
Vary the kind of potato you use. They do have to be waxy potatoes but there are many different varieties, all bringing a unique taste and texture to the finished dish. Varieties like Anya, Charlotte and Jersey Royals are all ideal for potato salad as they remain firm even when cooked. You’ll probably find it easier to leave the skins on as trying to peel a potato the size of a marble can be an exercise in frustration.
You will need about 800g of new potatoes. Give them a quick wash then put them into a saucepan with a teaspoon of salt. Top up with cold water and add a sprig of fresh mint. Put a lid on the pan and bring it up to the boil, then lower the heat and cook the potatoes for about 15 – 20 minutes (depending on size) until they feel tender when pierced with a knife.
Drain the potatoes in a colander and shake off the excess water. Allow to cool slightly. Cut the potatoes into smaller pieces, in halves or quarters (again depending on the size of the potato) and season with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of French or vinaigrette dressing – from a bottle is fine – and mix thoroughly. Adding the dressing when the potatoes are still warm means it will absorb better. Allow to cool completely.
Add 4 finely chopped spring onions and enough mayonnaise to coat the potatoes thoroughly. Mix well and tip into a serving bowl. Cover with cling film until needed. Serve at room temperature for the best flavour.
Potato salad goes with almost anything – burgers, steak, cold meat, sausages. It’s a great side dish to have at a barbecue. Everyone seems to love it.
*To vary the recipe you can add things like chopped celery, crispy bacon pieces, blue cheese, fresh herbs like parsley, chives or dill, add some soured cream to the mayonnaise or crushed clove of garlic, spike it with some chopped red or green chilli or use a mixture of white and purple potatoes for an interesting colour contrast.
This is a very luxurious potato dish, one for special occasions. A combination of sliced potatoes, garlic, cream and gruyere cheese cooked slowly in the oven. This dish is popular in France where it’s known as gratin dauphinoise.
1kg floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper, peeled and thinly sliced
25g butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
600 ml double or whipping cream
50g Gruyere, grated
Salt and pepper
Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible using a sharp knife, then rinse the potatoes in a colander under cold running water to remove some of the starch. Drain well. Mix the crushed garlic with the softened butter and use it to generously grease the sides and base of a shallow baking dish. Place a layer of potato slices in the dish, overlapping them slightly if necessary and season with salt and pepper.
Continue the layers of potato and seasoning until all the potato slices have been used up. Pour over the cream and bake in a hot oven, gas mark 6/200C/400F for an hour. The potatoes should be soft when pierced with the point of a knife.
Sprinkle over the grated Gruyere cheese in an even layer and return the dish to the oven. Cook for another 20 – 25 minutes until the cheese on top is a dark golden brown. This is delicious served with roast meats.
This is a Swedish recipe originally. Potatoes baked in cream with fried onions and anchovies, it was traditionally a layered potato dish but in this version, everything is mixed together to speed up the cooking time.
*For those who hate anchovies – you really can’t taste them, they just serve as an extra seasoning. Serves 4 – 6.
50g can anchovy fillets in oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
450 ml double or whipping cream
1.5kg floury potatoes
Salt and pepper
Drain the oil from the tin of anchovy fillets into a frying pan and when it’s hot, add the sliced onions and fry for 5 – 7 minutes until starting to turn golden brown. Add the anchovy fillets and cook for another 5 minutes; the anchovies should soften into a puree and melt into the onions. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
Pour in the cream and bring just up to boiling point (where the cream is bubbling fast but not rising to the top of the pan) then remove from the heat.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into matchstick-sized pieces – if you have a food processor there should be an attachment that will make short work of this task – if not, use a coarse grater. Mix the shredded potato with the onion, cream and seasoning and transfer to an ovenproof dish.
Bake for about an hour at gas mark 5/190C/375F until golden brown on top. This is just gorgeous served with roast meat, or even on its own.
These make a great alternative to chips, served with anything from a burger to a steak. They also make a nice snack, served with a dip (or two.)
1kg floury potatoes such as Maris Piper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs such as chives or parsley (or a mixture)
Leave the potatoes unpeeled and cut them into wedges, about the size of a finger but quite chunky. Cook in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain well and shake the colander to roughen up the surface of the wedges slightly, as with roast potatoes. This helps them to become crispy during cooking.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200C/400F and spread the wedges out on a tray. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 20 minutes.
Use tongs to turn the wedges, ensuring they get evenly browned. Return to the oven and cook for another 15 minutes, or until nice and brown and crispy. Sprinkle with the chopped fresh herbs before serving.
There are so many delicious ways to cook potatoes but these are the most popular. I hope you enjoy making and eating them. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
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