One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato — Mash!
Potato is a fightin’ word to Irish descendants who want to forget the tragic Potato Famine.
Understandable, but don’t discard the baby with the bath. Keep the colcannon, the boiled and the mashed made from what North Carolinians called “Ahrsh” (Irish) potatoes. Don’t be put off, either, by elegant, expensive little fingerlings, Russian Blues, Red Thumbs and Pink Pearls.
“I couldn’t survive without potatoes, personally or business-wise,” says Alan Riley, grandson of Ireland and owner of Dugan’s Pub in Pinehurst.
Riley plans a spud-studded menu for St. Patrick’s Day.
The truth is that man could live by potatoes alone. Maybe not happily, as Vincent Van Gogh pictured in “The Potato Eaters,” his dark, dour depiction of a poor Dutch family at mealtime. But this underrated nutritional powerhouse sustained the rural Irish until a fungal blight in 1845 withered the crop for several seasons. Peasant families, ignored by the British government, died of illness and starvation — or fled.
Nearly 2 million Irish citizens immigrated to the United States during the famine.
Still poor, they continued to rely on potatoes.
Americans put the meat in the meat-and-potatoes cuisine. As a side dish they were mashed, boiled or baked. Then deep fried, skillet-browned or turned into salad.
Mashed potatoes became a comfort food icon after the mom who mashed them rejoined the work force. Restaurants fueled the flame with cheddar, garlic and other variations. Instant and ready-to-eat staved off the hunger at home.
Let the art not die.
Perfect mashed potatoes are hardly a slam-dunk. Preparation is multi-step, with pitfalls.
The best mashers were just-dug red or white-skinned until the advent of Yukon Gold. To peel or not is the first hurdle. Potato skins have a good, earthy taste. Start with leaving skin on a few potatoes, peeling the rest. For the most intense flavor, potatoes should be steamed (in a steamer basket) until very tender, or cooked in a small amount of salted water until very soft.
Temperature is crucial. Cooked potatoes absolutely must be kept hot during the mashing process or else they will be a glutinous mess.
To ensure a velvety, lump-free texture,y pot set over very low heat. (Or mash dry potatoes thoroughly but quickly with a hand masher.) Heat whole milk or light cream with butter or margarine in microwave until butter is almost melted. Conscience will determine the amounts. Whip the milk and butter into the potatoes (in pot, over very low heat) with an electric hand mixer until desired consistency. Season with sea salt and white pepper.
Conveniently, mashed potatoes may be made ahead. Pile into a casserole and set aside. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees or until peaks are brown.
For a contemporary colcannon, start with cold mashed potatoes. Saute a thinly sliced leek (white and light green parts) and a little shredded cabbage in butter until wilted but not brown. Fold a handful of chopped parsley leaves into mashed potatoes. Spread a thick layer of potatoes over the vegetables in skillet. Cover skillet and cook over medium heat until underside is brown. Break up potato cake with a spatula and continue browning the rough chunks for a few minutes. Serve with horseradish sauce: 1-2 tablespoons prepared horseradish mixed into ¼ cup, each, light mayonnaise and light sour cream.
For a luscious potato soup: Bake four large potatoes until very tender. Simmer a sliced leek (white and light green parts) in 6 cups best-quality chicken broth. Lift out leek with slotted spoon. Cool broth to lukewarm; scoop flesh from two hot baked potatoes and puree in blender with soup. Return to pot; add leeks and flesh, in chunks, from remaining potatoes. Stir in ½ cup heavy cream, season with sea salt and white pepper and heat gently.
On St. Patrick’s Day only green will do. Make a batch of stiff mashed potatoes. Cook a package of frozen petite peas until soft and drain. Puree peas in blender with about ¼ cup warm milk or cream. Whip pureed peas into hot mashed potatoes with hand-held electric mixer. Sprinkle with chopped parsley leaves. The next day, stir a beaten egg into leftover green mashed potatoes. Form into patties, brown in butter and enjoy a hair of the dog that bit the leprechaun.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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