It is said that one can get all the nutrients required if one lives on potatoes and milk. The potato is rich in many vitamins and minerals, being an especially good source of vitamin C. It is also a good source of fiber. For all its nutritional value, the potato has very little flavor.
Its considerable lack of flavor seems to be precisely the quality that fits the potato for greatness, for it will go along with a large number of things. It is prepared in a number of ways:
The closest one might get to potato flavor is to roast baking potatoes until their skins emit a delicious aroma reminiscent of chocolate and dark toast. This happens after 45-60 minutes of roasting in a 400F oven without being wrapped in any foil. It is the skins that produce this aroma. They get crispy when cooked this way and some people find this the most interesting part of the potato.
Otherwise, the potato is a food to complement more strongly flavored fare.
Consider first the french fry. Most of us eat it with ketchup and the actual flavor of the potato is completely obscured. A friend's 3 year old incessantly begged for fries at a fast food restaurant. He looked up some fifteen minutes into the meal and realized his daughter was still on the first French fry but was working on the third package of ketchup. Home fries are usually enjoyed under similar conditions - with ketchup.
Consider next the potato salad. This traditional fare is simply not interesting unless it has in it some of the following: celery, mustard, bacon, onions, and mayonnaise. It is really the mustard that carries the flavor of a good potato salad, so use good mustard. Grey Poupon, for instance. Consider finally potatoes gratin. Here, the potatoes mellow out the cheesy gratin. It is the flavor of browned butter and browned potatoes that pair together here and it is a classic pair. Or what about stews where the potato nestles next to dark, savory meats and sweet roasted carrots. All of which we usually serve with ketchup. Hmm, sensing a theme here.
There are two basic types of potato; the baking potato which is high in starch, and the waxy skinned boiling potato which has less starch. The baking potato is used for baking and for french fries. Every other kind of potato is used for everything else. One can also find very small potatoes which have a more delicate texture and sometimes will have a more buttery flavor. And one can find blue potatoes whose chief benefit is that they are blue.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.