The not- so- humble spud

My neighbour offered me some of his new potatoes last week, and as there was a distinct lack of tasty goodies in the Shaw household for dinner that day I picked up the garden fork and filled a pot with freshly dug spuds. I was not sure of the varieties but after 15 minutes steaming I saw that they were all beautiful floury types, with their jackets bursting open.

The taste was simply divine and it reminded me of one of the very best meals I have ever had; it was on a clear blue summer’s day on the Aran Islands and consisted of poached wild salmon, fresh garden peas, and floury potatoes, nothing else, no sauces, just some good butter for the potatoes. Despite the fact that I have eaten many other great meals this is always the first to recall. Perhaps it’s in the Irish genes but we do love spuds and now is the time to buy them. Watch out for signs in small farmyards offering potatoes for sale, and of course your local market will have loads of them right now.

The Irish love floury potatoes and when you travel to France or the UK or Spain you may be disappointed if you order boiled potatoes as they will most likely be a waxy variety like Craig Royal. These waxy varieties are what you need if you want to make tortilla or dauphinoise potatoes; however they do not, in my opinion, appeal to the Irish notion of what a boiled potato should taste like. The Italians use floury potatoes to make gnocchi, tiny dumplings which are flavoured with a sauce. The most recent stunning potato creation that I tasted was three times fried chips, at Kevin Thornton’s new restaurant in Belfast. The chips are fried in regular oil initially and then finished off in boiling lard. Incidentally, that is also how Heston Blumenthal cooks chips at one of the world’s top restaurants, The Fat Duck.

You may not be aware that the spud is a great source of vitamin C, almost 45 per cent of your daily requirement, along with 21 per cent of your daily potassium and 12 per cent of your daily fibre. They are very high in protein and antioxidants while being very low on calories and having zero cholesterol. If, like me, you add loads of cream and butter then the above figures will change, but basically they are a great daily vegetable.

The most traditional Irish recipe is colcannon (note to restaurateurs, please put this on the menu ), mashed potatoes with loads of shredded cabbage and a pool of melted butter, seasoned with a little pepper and mace; some freshly chopped scallions, including the green parts, which have been gently cooked in a little milk will complete the recipe — delicious. My own favourite way to serve potatoes requires the purchase of a ricer. This will enable you to make the really smooth mashed potatoes that you get in restaurants.

Whenever you are cooking potatoes, always try to leave the skin on; this is where most of the goodness is, so scrub rather than peel and if you really need peeled potatoes, then peel after cooking. Steaming is much better than boiling and it is slightly quicker. For roasting you should boil for 10 minutes, then shake them in a dry pot with the lid on until the outsides get rough — put them into a very hot roasting tray with very hot fat and roast on the top shelf. When baking, pierce the skin with a fork, and then try coating with oil and Maldon salt, cook in a hot oven. Potatoes are cheap, they are full of goodness, everyone likes them and they taste great — they must be the perfect food for the year of the recession.

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