De-Commoditizing the Humble, Delicious Potato

LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 47. Follow us as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms.

Potatoes are so humble. Much like cucumbers, they tend to be overlooked and taken for granted, but we’d be lost without them. They’re such a staple in our diets and have been for decades. One of the reasons potatoes have a reputation for being commonplace is that they are such a commodity in America. There is a huge amount of effort for a meager return for most small farmers. That’s why folks you meet at the farmers market rarely grow potatoes (unless it’s for themselves): They can’t possibly sell heirloom potatoes at a price acceptable to someone used to buying commodity potatoes in the grocery store.

At Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, when it comes to making potato salad or roasted potatoes, we love showcasing the local bounty. Two farms that have really figured it out and we love doing business with are Farlow Farm (they grow a red-skin variety called Red Pontiac) and Plum Granny Farm (they grow some gorgeous fingerlings – Laratte, Red Thumb and German Butterball). By growing novel varieties that people don’t commonly see in stores, they’re able to set their own prices, making it worth their effort to grow potatoes.

Potatoes are best categorized by their texture: starchy or waxy. If potatoes are meant to be fluffy for French fries or mashed potatoes, you need a starchy potato. Our favorite way to eat starchy potatoes is mashed, with lots of Homeland Creamery buttermilk. Mashed potatoes are just so yummy — fluffy, starchy, tangy and rich. However, if you’re making potato salad, you should use a waxy potato so you get more texture.

One of the best books we’ve read got us excited about potatoes: It’s called Serious Pig, by John Thorne. He devotes an entire chapter to the potato, describing how he drove all around Maine in pursuit of heirloom varieties of potatoes and old potato recipes. Check it out for this and other essays about quintessentially American foods from across the country.

Potatoes make it onto Lucky’s seasonal menu (see recipes below) in several tasty ways, including:

  • Rustic Potato Salad, which is so popular it helps us purchase lots of Farlow potatoes. While this year we smoked the potatoes after boiling them, before mixing them with the remaining ingredients, that may prove to be a challenge at home. Simply boiling these potatoes until they’re tender and making this recipe as suggested will be delightful and delicious enough.
  • Smoked Salmon Hash is another dish we serve at Lucky’s. It reminds me of the time I spent living in Oregon. There, this dish was called “Red Flannel Hash,” after the lumberjacks who stereotypically enjoyed it as a hearty breakfast.
  • Duck-Fat Potatoes are a side dish here at the restaurant, and they are even more beloved by the staff than our guests. Maybe it has something to do with the name, which sounds so luxurious. It is such a wonderful addition to a meal with roasted meat, and it can be enjoyed any time of day. The trick here is finding a store discerning enough to stock duck fat — you can definitely find it at Fresh Market. Alternatively, you could substitute bacon fat from that coffee can on the back of your stove; just be sure to adjust the salt in the recipe.

Potato 4-1-1

  • The potato is a member of the perennial nightshade family, Solanum tuberosum, and is native to the Andes.
  • Potatoes are the world’s fourth-largest food crop, and Europe’s per capita production is the highest in the world.
  • China is currently first in the world’s potato production.
  • Potatoes are a good source of vitamins B6 and C, as well as copper, potassium and dietary fiber.
  • The Incas believed potatoes served many natural healing purposes, such as treating blemishes, frostbite, sunburn, toothaches and sore throats, and helping to heal broken bones.
  • While French fries are classified as “French,” Belgians claim that they originated in Belgium, and both countries still dispute the addictive treat’s origin.
  • French fries were first introduced to the U.S. sometime in the early 1800s, when Thomas Jefferson served them in the White House.
  • The potato was the first vegetable ever grown in space.
  • Potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator, as their high starch content will convert to sugar, making them unpalatable.
  • Potatoes should also not be stored near onions, as the gases that each vegetable expels cause them both to spoil.
  • Potatoes can be stored for a few months at cellar temperature in the dark, so with a spring and a fall crop, it is possible to get these potatoes for most of the year. Ask your favorite farmer about growing potatoes.

You like po-tay-toe, I like po-tah-toe

There are more than 4,000 different varieties of potatoes in the world. Here are some of the most common:

  • Russets (Idaho): Very starchy, with thick, abrasive brown skin, white flesh, and an elliptical shape. Their fluffy, dry texture makes them ideal for mashed potatoes, and they easily absorb cream and butter.
  • Yukon Gold: Both starchy and waxy, these round, golden (on the inside and out) potatoes are versatile. Their moist texture makes them perfect for really creamy mashed potatoes, potato salads and French fries. They have a thin, delicate skin, so they fall apart easily when cooked too long.
  • Red Bliss: Next to Russets, this variety of potatoes is one of the most common. These round, red-skinned potatoes are best for making potato salad because they have a waxy texture and hold their shape really well when cooked.
  • New (Creamer): These pale yellow, petite potatoes are harvested young, before their sugars fully convert to starch. They’re quite sweet and waxier then mature potatoes. They have a smooth, thin skin that you don’t need to peel, and they are great for roasting whole. They don’t keep as long as other potatoes.
  • Fingerlings: These purple, red, yellow and gold potatoes are oblong, firm and waxy. They are great in potato salads, and also used for roasting whole.

For more on potatoes, check out how to pick them:

Recipe: Rustic Potato Salad

  • 3½ lbs small red potatoes
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ½ lb red onions, diced
  • 16 oz can roasted red peppers, diced
  • 1 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2½ tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1½ tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
  • 2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 2 tsp thyme leaves, dried

Boil whole potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Chill in ice water to cool quickly. Quarter the potatoes, place in a mixing bowl and season with salt. Combine remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Whisk until well combined. Fold mixture into potatoes. Salt to taste.

Makes 8 cups

Smoked Salmon Hash

  • ¾ cup hash brown potatoes (see recipe below)
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp red onions, julienned
  • ¾ cup beaten eggs
  • 2 oz smoked salmon, rinsed well and cut into pieces
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp chopped chives

Heat oil in a sauté pan and add potatoes and onions. Heat through. Add salmon and eggs to pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook while stirring with a rubber spatula. When eggs are cooked, turn out into a serving bowl and garnish with chives.

Makes 1 serving

Hash Brown Potatoes

  • 1 lb Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Heat butter in a skillet. Add potatoes and spread over the pan. Season with salt & pepper. Allow potatoes to cook for about 5-7 minutes. Turn potatoes over and continue cooking until done.

Duck Fat Potatoes

  • ¼ cup duck fat
  • ½ lb julienned yellow onions
  • 2 lbs new potatoes, cut in wedges
  • ½ tbsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

Melt duck fat in a large skillet. Add onions and cook until softened. Add potatoes and seasoning, stir, spread out into a single layer and cover. Cook about 10 minutes, scrape bottom, turn potatoes over and spread into a single layer again; cover and cook 10 minutes. Scrape bottom, turn potatoes over and spread into a single layer again; cover and cook five minutes. Turn off heat; let rest for 10 minutes covered.

Makes 6 servings

For more about our seasonal recipes, see our current menu at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and our Blog Recipe Index:

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