Sunday, December 12, 2010

Glass Potato

This is a sort of food rant, hence the hybrid title.

I have been called many things in my life, most of them consisting of FOUR letters and beginning with the letter C. However, I am also a SNOB. I am especially a Potato Snob.

For me, potatoes are the most important part of 50% of the meals I cook. The reason they aren't important for all of the meals I cook is because spuds don't tend to go well with rice or pasta, unless you know something I don't. In fact, if I want to be pedantic (and I'm often called that too) I probably don't even have potatoes with 50% of my food. Between the two of us we go through shit loads of rice and there are always at least 5 different kinds (read shapes) of pasta in the store cupboard at any one time. Our store cupboard has so much stuff in it, it once prompted the wife's brother to ask us if we seriously believed there would be a nuclear winter in the foreseeable future.

I come from a family where at least 6 out of 7 meals a week had spuds on them. As they got older, my folks warmed to pasta, but rice was something the Chinese and Indians ate; or if you were treated to chicken fried rice on the extremely rare occasion a takeaway (that didn't originate from a fish and chip shop) was had . Potatoes were quite important to my mother; she preferred floury spuds for some things and waxy ones for other things and as a result I built up a love for one kind and a hate for the other.

Waxy potatoes have their place; fortunately for me the place they belong are in things I rarely eat - like potato salad, in soups or stews or cold (ugh! Cold spuds, how positively gah!). For me spuds need to be floury and the flourier the better and that means with anything I eat.

My potato fetish has been ridiculed over the years by various members of my family and by in-laws, but for me spuds are the most important accompaniment in a dinner, as they are the bulk of what you're going to eat. If the spuds aren't good then the rest of the dinner isn't. It is important for me that when you have a jacket potato it absorbs the butter, mashes well, but retains that dryness that gives it a certain amount of versatility. I recently bought some potatoes called Osprey in Morrisons, on the strength that they made 'excellent' jacket potatoes. I think I would rather have eaten monkey brains, because the consistency of Osprey jackets was how I'd imagine the grey matter of little primates to be like, except, possibly, a little wetter.

I also find the descriptions of potatoes by supermarkets to be a little vague; but I suppose they're just trying to sell units. I also find the majority of supermarkets to be unadventurous and dull; Tesco being the worst; never in all my shopping years have I seen such a piss poor selection of potatoes from the country's largest food retailer. Sainsburys' and Waitrose are the two retailers that seem to realise that spuds are important and not just something you have with meat and veg. Over the last few years, the former has introduced their Heritage range, which are essentially floury roasting spuds (with the exception of Arran Victory, which I have yet to discover just what they're useful for and have stopped buying them). Waitrose are as good as Sainsburys and feature Shetland Black, which is one of the best and most versatile spud (excellent chips) I've had in years; however, they only seem available for about 6 weeks a year and if you miss them, you miss out.

The Heritage line also have spuds that I think struggle to bear that label - Red King Edward's, Red Duke of York and Kestrel (which I grew myself this year) are all reasonable tatties, but I would look for other varieties.

In my opinion, I tend to avoid common spuds like Maris Piper, King Edward's and Desiree, which would suffice in a post-nuclear landscape. Potatoes like Cara, Sante, the aforementioned Osprey, Vale Sovereign, Estima and the very poor Lady Balfour are some of those that I avoid like the plague - cheap, mass produced rubbish with bollocks for descriptions and poor quality.

The spuds that, in my humble opinion, are the best on sale include Wilja - which I used to deride (mainly because they were my dad's fave and he had zero spud taste, to be honest), Bartlett's Majesty, which are the purple potato I've mentioned in the past. These are versatile if lacking in flavour a touch; but they are considerably better than Rooster, which can be used for all manner of things but tend to be a little flavourless. If you can get them, I would strongly recommend main crop Nadine - best if you grow them yourself in dry ground, but even shop bought they are a tasty tator. The best of the heritage range tends to be the wonderful Golden Wonder - it is called that because it was used for the crisp; but it's fantastic as a roast and also makes wonderful chips. Its a low cropper when grown and sometimes the tubers are small, but it has flavour like no other potato, apart from maybe Mayan Gold - which is a Taste the Difference spud for good reason. British Queen and Edzell Blue are both excellent roasters, but because they're low yield you have to literally be up early to get them from your average Sainsburys.

Mayan Gold is one of the Taste the Difference range, like Vivaldi, but where the latter is pretty poor, Mayan Gold are wonder-ful. Arguably it's an ancient spud, being grown from a hybrid of Golden Wonder and rare South American spuds, where the vegetable originated. Mayan Gold look like they should be waxy, but they're not. in fact, they're very floury, but they cook ridiculously quickly, so you have to keep an eye on them all the time. One minute they're perfect little spuds, the next you have a saucepan full of sludge. They were grown to be quick cookers and versatile - they need to be steamed if you can't keep an eye on them for ever. They make excellent chips - which is essentially what inspired this page of bollocks in the first place. I could harp on about why supermarket potatoes are spoiled by being washed because they allow the starch to be converted to sugar which means that the crispiness is turned into brown and initial crispy then soft and icky; but I won't.

Spud rant over. I feel better for that.

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